SPOTLIGHT ON THE GREAT HARRY HILLMAN

A post-jazz quartet from Switzerland named after an American Olympic gold medal champion brings together musicians from diverse influences with unexpected results.

Photography BERT SPANGEMACHER
Text F. GONZALEZ

A post-jazz quartet from Switzerland named after an American Olympic gold medal champion may seem atypical but when you consider that Harry Hillman’s greatest athletic achievement was setting the record in a team event the ensemble’s chosen moniker begins to make sense. Just like a high-achieving team, The Great Harry Hillman brings together musicians from diverse influences to achieve and trust each other to create music by intuition rather than predetermined processes.

Live at Donau115, their fourth release in eleven years, shares their not-so expected “post-jazz” sound that weaves in ambient, electronic and rock with their take on modern jazz. Expectations aside, their live shows are a free-evolving experience where a “set list” is just a recommendation. Expect songs to flow into each other with improv moments trusting the band’s intuition.

Interview:  05/2020 with David Koch from the Great Harry Hillman

David Koch from The Great Harry Hillman, wearing Blackfin glasses, shot by Bert Spangemacher
4SEE Spotlight on the Great Harry Hillman / David Koch, Guitar

Artist Name The Great Harry Hillman
Genre Post Jazz
Members and Instruments
Nils Fischer: bass clarinet / David Koch: guitar / Samuel Huwyler: bass / Dominik Mahnig: drums
Based in Lucerne, Switzerland
Playing together since 2009
Recent Album Live at Donau 115
Listen on Bandcamp / iTunes / SpotifyWebsite / Instagram / Facebook

Describe your band / music / style in three words.

Hypnotic-noise-wellness.

What did you listen to when growing up?

I grew up in a family of musicians, as did the rest of the band! My father is a classical flute player, so I was surrounded by classical music very early on. That had a huge influenced on me, for sure. My mum listened to classical radio all day long! Literally. So, before I started going to school, I was also forced to endure this compulsion. I think this shaped my musical sensibility, gave me a feeling for melodies and harmonies. When I was ten, I went on the road with an Irish folk band, we toured a lot! That was a lot of fun, being able to play at all these adult pubs out in Ireland, as a kid.

Music icon(s) and the reason why.

I have to start with Gary Moore. I caught him at a Saturday night show when I was a teenager. It’s because of him that I started to save money to buy an electric guitar. There was also John Zorn. During my college years I became a real groupie and a John Zorn addict. I had to know every record that he was on, and there are millions of them! As a result, I really dove into this New York downtown avant-garde jazz scene. I suppose this is what drove me to study Jazz at the university. Along the way, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Mark Turner were also really important to me. At the moment, my hero is the band LOW, with their latest album called Double Negative, produced by B. J. Burton. But I also love Bill Frisell with the Paul Motian Trio, St. Vincent, Dirty Projectors, Cant (the solo project of Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear), Radiohead, Marc Ribot, Burial, and Danger Mouse.

David Koch from The Great Harry Hillman, wearing Blackfin glasses, shot by Bert Spangemacher
4SEE Spotlight on the Great Harry Hillman / David Koch, Guitar
Eyewear by BLACKFIN Bayou

Who are you listening to right now?

That would be LOW, Sparklehorse, Jenny Hval, Tout Bleu, REA, Borusiade, Big Thief, Suuns…

What is the craziest or funniest thing that’s happened on tour?

Because you guys are a Berlin-based magazine, a show that I played there comes to mind. We were in the car, driving to the gig and there was a total blockade on the autobahn. We were three hours too late, but somehow we still arrived right when we were supposed to go on. The room was packed with people waiting for us, and they clapped when we stepped on stage. Of course, we still set up everything and sound check, all of this in front of the audience, and then float directly into our set.

Favourite performance venues or music festivals? And why?

There’s Jazz festival Willisau, a renowned festival in Switzerland, for avant-garde music. And then there are several smaller places that I remember because of the vibe there, the people, the energy. That would be Donau115, where our album is recorded. HotClub Gent, we go there at least once a year! It’s actually more like a bar, but with the most incredible people who, over the years, also became our dear friends. I also remember pretty obscure places in Japan, India and Russia. Venues that have something David Lynch thing about them, or feel like they are straight out of trashy nineties cinema experiments. When you enter these places, from soundcheck until you leave, it feels like a trip.

 

Three words to describe your fans.

Open-minded, adventurous, enthusiastic.

David Koch from The Great Harry Hillman, wearing Blackfin glasses, shot by Bert Spangemacher
4SEE Spotlight on the Great Harry Hillman / David Koch, Guitar
Eyewear by BLACKFIN Neptune Beach

Favourite eyewear brand?

The only eyewear I bought in my life were Cutler & Gross sunglasses. They were stolen after a few days. Ever since, I’m enjoying being blinded by the sun and the beauty of life.

What is next for you, an immediately upcoming tour or EP/Album?

In a few weeks, I’ll be going to Switzerland to manufacture 100 pieces of a guitar effect that I developed. It’s called The Pill Pedal. The coolest thing about making this thing is that I get to meet so many musicians and producers from all over the world.

At the moment, due to Corona, there are no concerts planned until September. In autumn, we’ll play in Switzerland and in early 2021 we have a tour planned for Russia. It’ll be our second time there, and I am really looking forward to it. The people there are just so incredibly warm!

Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time, where would you like to see your band / music and at what scale?

For myself, I hope that I can keep my curiosity, my dedication and the patience to create music and things related to it. I definitely don’t have a ten-year plan, I just want to keep on moving, be kind and let walk this meandering path.

For the band, we’ve been playing together for ten years! And with the same line-up. I guess there will be another 10 more. We’re always searching, experimenting and researching. That keeps us stimulated and, most importantly, challenged. It’s not always the easiest way, but at least we don’t get lazy and this keeps all us and the whole band awake and alive. I see the band evolving, and I am really curious where it will take us.