Interview with Nikolaus Holler

 Photo  ©  Peter Purgar

Photo © Peter Purgar


1.  Nik, it's great to have you here.
For a beginning we would like to learn more about you. How did you get interested in music? Does anyone else in your family have a musical background?

There are no professional musicians in my family but we certainly have a tradition of making music. Luckily, I grew up with a quite large spectrum of different music styles. When I was 3 years old, my dad introduced me to Zappa, Pink Floyd, Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Big Band music, MJ, Latin styles and many others. About the same age my mother started giving me recorder lessons, since she is a flute teacher. Apart from that my grandfather plays a bunch of traditional Austrian Folk instruments. His father was a conductor, as well as his grandfather. My grandmothers used to be choir singers.

2. You family is definitely into music so how old were you when you first started creating music?

I started with the recorder, having private lessons from my mother when I was 3 years old. At the age of 8 I switched to the alto saxophone, which later became the main instrument for me.

3. Why did you choose saxophone? Can you play any other instrument?

My parents took me to a lot of concerts, mainly big bands and pop concerts. The saxophone players have always fascinated me although drums seemed to be more interesting to me at that time. But a “key moment” for me was when I was around seven years old and we were at a concert and I saw a band with a saxophonist upfront. I was quite impressed! Later, Egon Tertinegg became my first teacher on the saxophone (Musikschule Bad Radkersburg).

Today I am playing alto saxophone, soprano sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, EWI, Duduk, piano, drums, recorder, flute, Bb clarinet and Bass clarinet.

 PHOTO  ©  Lucija Novak

PHOTO © Lucija Novak

4. Is there a musician or a band that you look up to?

Yes, absolutely. The list is incredibly long and I can’t write down everyone. It includes  legends like Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Lee Konitz, composers like Paul Hindemith, JS Bach, Duke Ellington, Gil Evans as well as contemporary artists, bands and producers like Mark Turner, Vijay Iyer, Ambrose Akinmusire, Thundercat, Chris Potter, Kendrick Lamar, Robert Glasper, Hiatus Kaiyote or Terrace Martin. Apart from that I think every culture brings its own musical gift with itself. I also look up to the fellow musicians that I collaborate with in my projects, as well as my professors.

5. You are part of the multinational band  “Dr. Thinik is Digging Suomi“. Can you share with us how you guys met and how it all started?

“Dr. Thinik is Digging Suomi” is a brand-new sister-project of “Marthinik’s Garden”, which was found three years ago. Unfortunately, each one of the members went to a different part of Europe, so we can play just few times a year. Since I really enjoy this project I started a new band together with Thilo, the pianist of Marthinik’s Garden.

Our drummer David is playing with Thilo in two other projects. He is the first drummer I have ever performed with. David is a long-term mutual friend of Thilo and me. I met Tomi just a few months ago and I liked him and the music he creates instantly. About the same time that I met him, I also met Joonas - our bassist. I saw him performing at a concert. We just clicked.

6. How did you come up with the name of the band?

It’s a bit weird, right? I don’t know why I like these weird things. Well, it’s nothing but an unspectacular acronymic word game. “Dr.” stands for our drummer Dr. Esler, whose secret artist name is David Dresler. “Thi” stands for our pianist, Thilo Seevers. “Nik”, that’s me. “Suomi” is the mother tongue of our two finish Vikings Joonas Tuuri on bass and Tomi Nikku on trumpet. In that context we used the word “digging” to point out our spontaneous musical conversation, mix of emotional and lyrical dialects from all over the world.

 PHOTO  ©  Florian Supancic

PHOTO © Florian Supancic

7. What kind of music do you create?

We play compositions we’ve created ourselves. This is not an action of ignorance. There are tons of beautiful compositions and arrangements out there, which we also like to play, but in this project we try to be as authentic as possible. When you create your own, unique compositions you express your own emotions, experiences and feelings. This leads to a very natural base frame of a collective musical conversation, on which every emotion or creative idea of the moment can be added.

8. Is there a particular festival you dream of performing at?

Personally I love playing in front of big audience as well as small intimate one. There is a huge difference between those two things though. My dream is to be able to go around the world, play gigs and perform at festivals. Anything from a huge summer jazz festival somewhere in Barcelona or Rio de Janeiro, to a sitting concert in India or a small club audience in New York. This seems just perfect for me.

9. If you were given the chance to collaborate with any musician, band who would you choose?

It would be nice to play with the band Kneebody, or to tour with Kamasi Washington’s band. I dream of collaborating with Ambrose Akinmusire, Justin Brown, Brian Blade, Thundercat, Vijay Iyer’s crazy large ensembles, but it would also be awesome to sit in the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra or Maria Schneider’s Orchestra, as well as to play some lines from Kendrick Lamar’s album – that would be a great thing.

10. What are you most proud of in terms of your career so far?

Proud is a very strong word. I don’t like to use it too much, although I am happy that I passed the entrance exam to one of the hardest and best jazz schools in the world. The program there is full of great and memorable experiences, but it also requires a lot of hard work.

The biggest “off-uni” experience so far was a one-month tour in Brazil. At the time I was able to learn a lot about life in general.

I feel thankful to be an endorser of the Austrian instrument brand “Schagerl” for a couple of months now, which gives me the chance to play on their saxophones.

 PHOTO  ©  Walter Schmidbauer

PHOTO © Walter Schmidbauer

11. What is the most difficult part of being a musician? What was the biggest challenge you have faced so far?

To me the most difficult part is to deal with things that are not really related to music. Since being a musician isn’t the best paid job, we depend on subventions by the government or sponsors. For example, if we want to keep projects alive with professional productions (video, album). This is always associated with a huge amount of bureaucratic paperwork and it consumes a lot of time.

The biggest and most unpleasant challenges are those that make you give up on projects simply because you don’t have enough time for them.

12. Has anything unexpected happened during a concert?

I experienced sad moments like a heart attack in the audience or problematic incidences like a broken snare stand. But the real unexpected things happen before a concert.

In 2015 I had a Carnival gig in Natal, Brazil. We (Antonio de Padua Banda) we’re about to play after the famous Brazilian musician “Moraes Moreira”. In that afternoon we spent hours on the sound check. The technicians seemed to have a lot of troubles setting up this giant stage’s sound. After waiting a really long they were finally ready and we went to relax and later listened to Moraes’show. It was very nice. A huge crowd of at least 5000 people was jumping, dancing and singing along. Then we got up on stage wanting to keep people partying. Quickly the technicians revealed the marvelous news of that their systems hadn’t memorized the files from our sound check. We had to wait for more than one and a half hours again and as a result half of the audience had already left by the time we got back on stage. We started playing at 2am, but we cooked up the vibe again and the people stayed until 4am.

13. Are you working on any other projects right now? What are your future plans?

Recently I recorded an album with Marco da Costa’s Jatobá brasilian Big Band, which will be released soon. At the moment I am part of the Mid Europe Big Band with which I’m going to perform on one of the biggest wind-instrument festivals worldwide in Schladming, Austria. I am participating in the Riverside Big Band Bad Radkersburg by J. Laller & S. Krobath, as well as Concept Big Band by Dominic Pessl. Last week we had two great concerts with the KUG Jazz Orchester feat. the legendary Bobby Shew. I will be part of this great project for two more shows.

I am leading/co-leading the projects “Marthinik’s Garden”, “Dr. Thinik is digging Suomi” and I am part of Sandro Gutschi’s quintet as well as Günther Brücks Latin Ensemble.

In the future I want to collect experience in other countries, maybe through an Erasmus semester or by doing a Master degree abroad. I am 23, the journey has just begun. My dream is to realize all my projects.

14. What else are you passionate about?

I am passionate about the things I love - my girlfriend, the art of Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. As I grew up on wine yard mountains, I love spending time in the nature. I get inspired by many things whether it’d be a touching photography, a novel, a poem, a movie. I do, however, have one secret passion - football.

 PHOTO  ©  Janez Klenovsek

PHOTO © Janez Klenovsek

15. You are part of the upcoming Solidarity Evening. Why did you decide to take part in it? What do you think about this event?

An event like Solidarity Evening is incredibly important for our community, especially nowadays. News are filled with negative stories. We need something positive to restore our faith in the world.

The Solidarity Evening is a zone free of negative stories. It’s a hug for the soul and moreover it’s a charity event for the vendors of the street magazine “Megaphon”. I think Ines Kolleritsch and her team (Johanna Seitinger, Ania Jasniak, Anil Bilgen, Simon Kintopp) did a great job bringing this project to life.