Photos by Joni Spaan
For me, the return of Hunter Complex, aka Lars Meijer, is a great thing. I can remember so vividly hearing Open Sea in late 2018, a couple months prior to it’s official release date and being blown away. That record was like breathing rarefied air; a sound world that felt like another place and time, yet there was a familiarity to it that was dizzying. Meijer had released a few albums as Hunter Complex previously and they were all excellent, but Open Sea sounded like an artist that found themselves.
Open Sea was followed by the sister album Dead Calm and Zero Degrees, which was recorded during the same period as Open Sea. Where one album ends, the other begins. The EP Rain In Europe wrapped up a fruitful and musically rich period for Lars Meijer and Hunter Complex.
We now have the gorgeous and expansive Airports and Ports. Meijer has taken Hunter Complex in a new and exciting direction, making a record that feels light, hopeful, and optimistic despite having to deal with a lockdown and a very personal tragedy amidst its creation.
Airports and Ports is out digitally today(give “The Garden” a listen below as it encapsulates the magic of the album as a whole perfectly.) Burning Witches Records also has vinyl preorders up now, with two limited edtion color variants, as well as standard black vinyl. Snag those right here.
I had the opportunity to speak with Lars about the new album and the process he went through to get there. Give it a look below, then get over to BWR and order what will surely be one of your favorite albums of the year.
J Hubner: There’s a lightness to the new album ‘Airports and Ports’. It feels like a journey or exploration. ‘Open Sea’ and ‘Dead Calm and Zero Degrees’ were two sides of the same sonic coin. Light and dark intertwined. The new album feels like a clean break from that world. Electronics intersperse with the symphonic world and the jazz world.
First, is there a concept or running theme with ‘Airports and Ports’? What are some influences going into this new record? I still hear touches of Mark Isham, but there’s even touches of Chet Baker in the trumpet in “The Garden”.
Lars Meijer: That’s Aquiles Navarro on trumpet! He’s amazing. You might know him from the fantastic free jazz band Irreversible Entanglements. But the record that got me into his music was the record he did with drummer Tcheser Holmes, Heritage Of The Invisible II, released by International Anthem Recordings. Some of the releases on that label have been on heavy rotation the past couple of years. Chicago Waves by Carlos Niño & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and the releases by Anteloper, featuring the late Jaimie Branch on trumpet. There’s no distinction anymore between jazz and electronics, it’s one. Like Miles did in the 70s with rock and funk, it’s completely new music. Aquiles has a beautiful tone, he can really hit you in the gut with his melancholic playing. I sent him a raw 10 minute version of the track New Arrival on the Island and when I first heard what he played, I said to him: we sound like Mark Isham together! So yeah, Isham, especially his 80s records like Trouble in Mind (‘86) and Vapor Drawing (‘83), are still a huge influence, as are the records by international Anthem. But also lots of quiet ambient or new age from the 80s, like the Hearts of Space and Valley of the Sun labels and stuff reissued by Morning Trip Records from Canada.
J Hubner: How was the writing different with this record than with what came before? Did you go in wanting this to be a different experience? Did you begin writing during lockdown?
Lars Meijer: For Airports and Ports I wanted to incorporate a free feel within my compositions and I wanted it to be a tranquil album. I always liked to arrange my songs to the max, but for this one I wanted to see if I could create some more room to breathe, to use more silence, and to use no beats. Besides a kick and some toms in another track, I succeeded in that, haha. Prince once said about Joni that he learnt how to use space in his music because of her. I’ve been spinning a lot of Joni, especially Night Ride Home from 1991. That record has a lot of space. It’s her best album. I love how she always did what she wanted and not what was expected of her.
J Hubner: Speaking of lockdown and 2020 in general, how did you fare during the last two years? Were you comfortably isolated with you family? Did you keep busy and creative?
Lars Meijer: My previous album Dead Calm and Zero Degrees came out in March 2020, right at the beginning of the first lockdown. I already made some raw setups for new tracks before that, but when that lockdown hit, all my creativity came to a halt. Since I couldn’t play any gigs to support Dead Calm, I did two livestreams on YouTube. Two of the tracks from that first livestream [https://youtu.be/E3-lCfMUJ2s] actually ended up on Airports and Ports in a completely different form. But after the two streams, I did nothing. Almost a year later, at the end of the summer of 2021, I couldn’t stand it anymore and I made a selection of demos that I wanted to be on the album. I started contacting people I admire for a contribution. I wanted to see what they could bring to my music and I wanted to get inspired. Kat Epple was the first person that I contacted. She was in the band Emerald Web with her late husband Bob Stohl in the late 70s and 80s. I got to know their music through the compilation album The Stargate Tapes on Finders Keepers Records. She plays the flute so beautifully and I had just the right kind of track for her to play on. When I heard what she played on that raw demo, I was thrilled. That was the spark that got me going again. After that, I contacted all the others. I was in the middle of recording the album when my brother Sven died in a drowning accident in November 2021. It had a huge impact on me and the music I was working on. He had a piano in his house that used to be at our parents’ place. I sampled that piano note for note some years ago. When we were clearing out his place, I had to find a new place for the piano. As a tribute to my brother, I used that old piano samples on the track “Dirty Snow”.
J Hubner: Your music has never sounded like anything but you. You pull influence and inspiration from everywhere. I bought ‘Vapor Drawing’ because of you. Prince, Miles Davis, Jan Hammer, your musical DNA stretches decades, genres, and everything in-between. What excites you these days musically? What keeps your creative fire burning?
Lars Meijer: I’m playing the last Klaus Schulze record, Deus Arrakis, a lot. I find it fascinating that someone makes music for all his life, literally until his last breath, and still keeps pushing boundaries. Same goes for Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices, I can keep talking about him forever. I actually stole the name Hunter Complex from a GBV track. I play lots of jazz, both old and new. I really like the last Immanuel Wilkins record on Blue Note, his ballads are so sweet. Morning Trip, a label from Canada, are reissuing private press new age records from the 70s and 80s; not only synth stuff, but guitar, cymbalom, flute. Keith Fullerton Whitman just did a trilogy of GRM records that are very impressive. And I’m into big sentimental 80s poprock, like INXS, Midnight Oil, Icehouse, very underrated stuff. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith just made a beautiful ambient/field recordings album with Emile Mosseri, SFI Recordings is releasing some very special records – I’m listening to the excellent Meat for Wolfman by Blutbraüer as we speak – so it’s all over the place as usual, haha.
J Hubner: Who were some collaborators this time around?
Lars Meijer: Besides Kat Epple on flute and Aquiles Navarro on trumpet, Alexander Hawkins plays piano on the opening track. I saw him play with the legendary drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo – his record Spirits Rejoice from ‘78 is such a rousing album – and Shabaka Hutchings at the Bimhuis jazz club in Amsterdam. As I am a keyboard player myself, I usually focus on the piano player and Alexander blew my mind. He really had to work hard to keep the train going and keep everyone in line. After that I started following him on Instagram and one day he posted a picture of the book Raise Up Off Me: A Portrait Of Hampton Hawes. It’s a fantastic biography written by Don Asher and Hampton Hawes himself. I didn’t know the man’s music so I got his most famous album The Green Leaves of Summer from ‘77 first and I was blown away. When I was working on the title track for Airports and Ports I kept hearing a piano in the style of Hampton Hawes and I knew I had to ask Alexander.
Another guest is Justin Sweatt. He released music under the Xander Harris monniker, which I like, but when I heard When The Light Goes, I was in awe. I asked him who played electric guitar on that record and that turned out to be him. So when I needed a guitar for the closing track “City Pulse”, I immediately thought of him. He plays these beautifully weird Robin Guthrie (of Cocteau Twins) kind of chords. They are in a different key, so it has an unsettling feel. On that same track my good friend Coen Oscar Polack also added some field recordings. We have known eachother since we were seven and were swapping Dire Straits tapes. We used to make music together under the name Living Ornaments and we have matching tastes in music, so I didn’t have to explain to him what was needed.
Before the pandemic, I really liked to work alone, get my own vision out on record, but that has changed. The studio used to be a place where I can shut myself off from the rest of the world, now it’s a place where I can get in touch with the rest of the world.
J Hubner: Can you tell me a bit about the album art for ‘Airports and Ports’? It’s stunning. I loved the simplicity of the Open Sea album art, and the intoxicating darkness of the blue geography of ‘Dead Calm and Zero Degrees’. ‘Airports and Ports’ has a futurist look to it. Like Moebius doing album art. It captures the sonic world of the record perfectly.
Lars Meijer: What I said to Luke Insect, who created this beautiful artwork, was: ‘For the sleeve I see a big port in front of me, with those colourful containers’ and I sent him a big pile of pictures to let him know what I meant. I also explained to him what every track was about. Places of transition, going somewhere new, climate change, forces of nature, and he took it from there. I really like that he took that futuristic approach, because there’s a lot of adventure and positivity in this album.
J Hubner: Was there a enough songs left to where you can fill out another album, like the recording process with Open Sea and Dead Calm and Zero Degrees?
Lars Meijer: No, this time I only took out 10 tracks to finish instead of 25. So the slate is empty, almost. I have 21 track setups lying around, maybe I will use some of those, but I like the idea of starting from scratch.
J Hubner: So what’s next?
Lars Meijer: I’m building up my studio after a renovation. Maybe it’s time to finally start working on my outer space themed album. But knowing myself, I probably lose focus two tracks in and start sabotaging the project, haha.