“I was seven months pregnant. The doctor said I couldn’t travel but I explained that I was going to be playing with John McLaughlin… she said, ‘Okay, well you have to go!’” Hedvig Mollestad started out feeling like a failure

Hedvig Mollestad
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Guitarist and composer Hedvig Mollestad has a formidable work ethic. In addition to her countless live shows and guest appearances over the years, she's released seven studio albums with her acclaimed Hedvig Mollestad Trio since 2011, as well as another three records with expanded ensembles.

Recently appearing as artist-in-residence of the internationally prestigious Molde Jazz Festival, she's back with a new collaboration Weejuns, which finds her exploring improvised music in the company of drummer Ole Mofjell and Motorpsycho/Elephant keyboardist, Stäle Storlokken. Clearly a musician who doesn't like standing still, Prog finds out what motivates her.

Did you always know you were going to be a guitarist?

I clicked with the instrument very early but I never thought that would mean being a musician. My parents were working-class people who had guitars and played songs at parties. I remember thinking the guitar was beautiful and being fascinated by chords and the sound.

I was 23 when I started the Norwegian Academy Of Music and there I studied be-bop guitar. I wasn’t able to play it and felt like an idiot after every lesson but it was very valuable because it gave me structure and a common ground with the jazz community. I was 25 when I decided to become a musician.

In 2014, your trio shared the bill with John McLaughlin at London’s Royal Festival Hall. What was that like for you?

When the promoter told me his idea of pairing us on the same bill, I couldn’t believe my ears. I was six or seven months’ pregnant, and the week before that show I was really ill and had to have my appendix removed.

The doctor said I couldn’t travel but I explained that I had to go as I was going to be playing with someone that had defined the path for my profession and she said, “Okay, well you have to go!”

When I’m making music, the process hasn’t ended until I have recorded it

John McLaughlin has been defining the parts of my passion not only for me but an entire generation of players. He’s got a curious mind that never stops looking forward. People can say what they want about the directions and aesthetic choices he’s made – I don’t care so much about all that. His presence is very, very inspiring.

A glance at your discography shows you’ve released a lot of albums in a relatively short space of time...

When I’m making music and doing different projects, to me, the process hasn’t ended until I have recorded it. That’s actually an important part of the process. When I’ve spent time and energy into making something and putting people together to record it, to have an album at the end is to feel that I’ve completed it.

You obviously have a close relationship with your record label, Rune Grammofon.

Very much so. Label owner Rune Kristoffersen gives me total freedom artistically. I really like the way that we communicate, and the freedom you get from working closely to somebody that cares for the music and also respects the choices of the artist. That’s very, very rare.

The new trio heard on your latest album, Weejuns, is quite different to your regular trio, and you’re working with Ståle Storløkken again.

That’s right. We worked together on my 2022 album, Maternity Beat, with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. He’s an exquisite improviser. I feel very connected to him on a musical level. Ståle does his most magic stuff when he’s listening and not just playing stuff that I’ve written for him. He has a presence.

You can play together and even though you don’t know what you’re going to play, and you play totally different things, it still has a connection. I’ve learned so much just from the very few sessions that we have had since we started the Weejuns Trio.

Some of Weejuns is reminiscent of King Crimson’s approach to improvisation in the Larks’ Tongues... era. Was it intentional? 

I’m very connected to a lot of the Crimson material, but I didn’t hear them until after I started to work with the Hedvig Mollestad Trio. I didn’t listen to heavy or progressive rock until I was in my 20s. When you have capable musicians who can make beautiful music outside of the usual framework, it’s important to try to go there because it’ll change the rest of the set.

With the trio, we have been trying to do that from the very start, to have places inside the tunes that are very, very open. Our [2016] album Black Stabat Mater is a record where we do a lot of that. The structure of tracks like Approaching and the last part of On Arrival, we have so little knowledge of what is going to happen. Also, with Somebody Else Should Be On That Bus, that’s just a riff and everything else is about seeing where it takes us.

The riff is an incredibly important part of what the Hedvig Mollestad Trio does, isn’t it?

I like to play and rehearse loud and I like to make riffs. They are something that makes life worth living!

Your trio have been described as being jazz, metal, prog, and often all of the above. How would you describe them?

It’s obviously eclectic but I don’t have anything to say about where our music belongs. I think the nature of jazz is to be open and curious about what you hear and to act upon that.

What’s next for the trio?

We’re still touring and we’re looking forward to making a record again. It’s three years since we were in the studio so we have been talking about it for a long time.

Downbeat magazine cited you as “one of the artists who could shape jazz for decades.” How’s that going for you?

I’m very grateful – but at the same time if you are going to be honest about your music, you can’t read much into these things.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.