The Hedvig Mollestad Trio are an eye-catching bunch on stage at the Royal Festival Hall to open up for John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension. The instrumentalists – guitarist Hedvig, bassist Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Bjørnstad – are all colour-coordinated, with their bandleader in a sparkly red cocktail dress and headband, looking like a flapper girl from the 1920s. But when they launch into the riff avalanche that is Laughing John, it becomes clear this is not some polite jazz ensemble- this is a gloriously overdriven power trio.
The group came out of the jazz programme at Norges musikkhøgskole, a prestigious Norwegian music college, but Hedvig, whose first guitar was her mom’s acoustic, was raised on rock every bit as much as jazz. “My father listened to a lot of jazz, but I didn’t play that much jazz when I first started,” she says. “Some of my parents’ friends gave me CDs with Jimi Hendrix and John Scofield and I listened to grunge a lot so it was a mix of many different musical styles and bands. I listen to everything from Richard Marx and Paul McCartney to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and Soundgarden. I just thought they all had great guitarists.”
Live at the Royal Festival Hall. Pic: Kevin Nixon
While Ellen frequently plays an upright bass alongside Hedvig’s snarling guitar, the Trio has come a long way from their jazz school origins. “We started out as quite a mainstream jazz band,” says Hedvig. “But after we had played for some time, we found that didn’t sound very good. So many others played that better and I started to write a couple of songs.” They developed a sound of their own, “which turned out to be harder and louder and it freed us from the things we had played up until then,” she says. “There was a time in my twenties when I listened a lot to Led Zeppelin and that had an impact on our music. Their songwriting really defined the way I think about riffs and guitar sounds. I really love early Rush. Alex Lifeson’s guitar playing really made an impact on me and, even though they may not sound the way we want to sound, the way they put together their riffs has been very inspiring.”
The band released their first album Shoot! in 2011, followed by All Of Them Witches in 2013 and Enfant Terrible earlier this year. Alongside their own compositions, the band has covered Black Sabbath and The Melvins. “Black Sabbath was a big awakening for me because I learned about them so late in my life,” says Hedvig, who has stomped through Iommi’s riff-fest Sabbath Bloody Sabbath live. On Shoot! the band tackled Blood Witch by The Melvins. “There is so much humour in what they do and it sounds so extremely hard and precise and it’s so powerful but at the same time it’s not too tough. It makes you happy,” says Hedvig, who keeps a signed Melvins poster in her loft.
One of the problems the Trio faces is that promoters don’t know whether they should book them at jazz festivals – because they improvise - or in rock clubs because they’re damned loud. “When we come to play in jazz places, they’re like, ‘Yeah, do you think you could turn down a little?’” she says. “And then when we agree that we don’t have to turn down then it turns out that everyone that comes actually appreciates it.” At the end of the day, Hedvig believes labels aren’t really helpful anyway. “I think it’s important to say, ‘Hey this is music. Do you like it or do you not?’” Exactly.