Photo: Petter Boström
You started out as a drummer. How come you ended up getting hooked on the guitar instead?
Well, I still play the drums as often as the guitar but found it tremendously hard to write decent songs on a floor tom, haha. I have always been interested in composing music and it was sort of inevitable to change my main instrument. This said, I have a profound fascination for rhythm and am indeed deeply in love with the sound of a proper drum, hence one of the reasons I am so in love with anything Toontrack since it is truly top notch stuff, to say the least.
Do you think that starting out as a drummer in some way has impacted you as a guitar player?
Very much so. I feel quite confident in most situations where intricate rhythms may be thrown at me, part because of the relationship to the drums since the early days, part because of konnakol.
Speaking of konnakol… If you had to explain it in layman’s terms, what actually is the konnakol rhythm language and how is it a great tool for composition and learning?
Konnakol is an astounding Indian percussive language where you sing or speak specific syllables imitating the various sounds of a drum. I’d say that learning just a tiny bit of konnakol will make you grow a whole lot and understand the bigger scheme of things. I just read “the one who understands rhythm understands the world,” and I truly believe that. I have used and practiced konnakol for years now but am a mere beginner. However, it has helped me so incredibly much in so many ways and I have no intention of becoming an expert but only shamelessly use it in my own musical journey.
Way back in the 1990s, you were signed to Steve Vai’s label. What was it like being recognized by such an iconic player at an early stage in your career?
Steve has helped me in many, many ways, opening many doors. It was so flattering to be a Swedish boy with homemade, heathen music recorded in a bathroom and be on the same label as iconic players such as Allan Holdsworth, Frank Gambale, Steve Lukather, Larry Carlton and plenty more. It was hard to grasp and I certainly didn’t do anything to make it happen, as a true Swede. Steve came to me and insisted on releasing my zany stuff. Amazing.
These days, you’re doing clinics all over the world, you’re in the band Freak Kitchen and much more. What’s the best part of your job and working with music on a whole? As much as I love to perform and tour with the band, my biggest musical kick is to create something out of nothing; writing music. Few things can compare to locking in with the band on stage. It’s a lovely, rewarding rush. But, again, working with new compositions, in whatever shape and form, is the ultimate high for me.
You’ve also run your Freak Guitar Camp now for years, an event to which guitarists from all over the world pilgrimage to learn and get inspired. How did it all start and how has the journey to where you are with it now been?
It’s been a downright fantastic ride all along. The Freak Guitar Camp is where I grow, where I have to get my shit together and level up (because the attendants are not kidding around). We started back in 1999 and the basics are the same, yet refined for each year; hard work, an overkill of hours of playing, way too many things to fathom and loads of fun. It’s the highlight of my year and I will continue to do it until I drop dead. I can’t imagine a summer without it.
A video recap from this year’s Freak Guitar Camp.
“Growing your own mustache” is something you often bring up during your clinics. What do you mean, specifically?
Well, I have always walked my own quirky way, the road less traveled. I strongly believe life will be more fun if you take charge of it. Practice the stuff that makes you happy. Grow your own mustache instead of worrying what’s hip at the moment. Follow your own path. Every day.
Walk us through a regular day “in the life of” IA Eklundh.
Open eyes. Coffee in Quake mug. Breakfast with the family. Enter the Freak Audio Lab (my studio). Work with music (or video). Stuff food into the oral opening when necessary. Hang out with the family in the evening. Close eyes. Begin over.
Even though your music is dead serious, there is a big portion of humor embedded in a lot of your work. How important is humor for your creativity and how come it ended up being such a big part of your music?
I just do what I do. Humor is a big part of life, but I think perhaps it has more to do with letting your guard down than anything. Allow yourself to goof around a bit and be silly every once in a while. Laughter is the ultimate weapon and you have to be able to laugh at yourself. I often make a fool out of myself, because after all these years I am still extremely naive and believe everything people say. An easy target if you will. But it’s refreshing. My teenage son Gabriel is an expert at cracking me up when he imitates me in the most brutal of ways. And he is right.
Out of six, seven and eight string guitars, is there one you favor?
I never played the seven string as it made no sense to me, but nowadays it is almost exclusively eight string guitar and a bit of nine string too. A six string guitar feels awkwardly helium balloon-like…almost like a toy. I adore my first Apple Horn 8 from Caparison Guitars. It was a prototype, but it is scary good to this very day.
Which Toontrack products do you use and how do they help in your creative process?
Oh boy, Toontrack made my life so much easier in so many ways. I use all of it! But mostly Superior Drummer 3 and EZkeys. Superior Drummer 3 is a beast of a software and I get inspired by just launching it. I can’t imagine anything more user-friendly. The sounds are absolutely astounding and it is so easy to do even the most bizarre things. I use my MIDI-kit for the most part but also my keyboard and it works flawlessly. The way you can tweak, stack and adjust every little detail just makes me happy. And creative.
Finally, we need to ask: Where actually does the “IA” come from and what does it mean?
Matt-IA-s. The low budget version of my first name that everyone called me when I was a toddler, including myself. It stuck somehow.