I met Hans Martin a long time ago, when he came to teach me and my colleagues from a contemporary dance project how to yodel. He has an education as a jazz vocalist, and knows several different singing techniques. But actually, he’s even more known for playing the banjo. We’ve jammed together several times, and it’s easy to connect the tap dance with his rhythmical, 16th-notes-heavy tunes.
What’s super interesting about the banjo is that it’s a percussion instrument ánd a guitar. The banjo player also provides the groove, and it seems like the melody is extracted out of the groove. Sometimes I feel like tap dance can do this as well: play a consistent groove, but emphasize and accentuate a melody by how the different tap sounds are coming out of the groove. Banjo music and flatfooting, Appalachian clogging and buck dance are a traditional match from way back, with a great representation in dancers like Nic Gareiss today. Tap dance has evolved from these old time dances, with the two biggest differences being that tap dance uses the heels more, and musically is closer to the syncopated swing jazz music.
I had no intention of pretending to dance any of the old styles, as I am no expert in that. Instead I tried to find the vocabulary in my tap dance that would sound good and be appropriate with the 16th-note-groove that Hans Martin played. It was very important to work groove-based, and mostly stick with either the melody or the groove instead of bursting out with all the steps that happened to be in my legs. Hans Martin suggested a couple of songs, of which one he had written himself. It has some shifts in the accentuation of the melody versus the downbeat, goes in a Sandy River Belle tuning, and seems to never land. When we rehearsed I felt free and inspired, and just wanted to dance, dance, dance. There were many ideas coming out in different steps and rhythms, and we also had several ideas about how to structure the song. Eventually we decided on a form with 10 rounds of the AAB-structure, and a rough idea for what we would do in each set of 2 rounds. It was a great challenge to be a sort of reliable groove-motor, while also contributing and offer some rhythmical ideas.
An even bigger challenge was to decide about which tap shoes to wear. In that little house, so close to each other and with a low ceiling, I felt so loud with my regular tap shoes. At first I got the impression from sound engineer Audun that the hard tap sound would be best, because it is in a different frequency range than the banjo. Later on, this choice would make it easier to mix the tap sound without making the banjo sound muddy. But the hard sound and the slippery and uneven floor made me feel quite self-conscious, next to already feeling a bit intimidated by the whole task. That immediately showed in my sound; the groove was unsteady and the dance was inhibited. After a couple of takes I decided to give the soft shoes (without the taps) a try, and it turned out that it would work fine as long as I would limit myself to the board and not go out on the floor. My mics were on each side of the board, and that way it was possible to isolate my sound more in the recording. Also, I got headphones, so I could hear the banjo and singing even better. I love the sound of soft shoes with the banjo, and I felt much more comfortable in my body, and inspired by the music.
Performed by Hans Martin Rundberg Austestad (banjo, vocals) and Janne Eraker (soft shoes on wood) Composed by Hans Martin Rundberg Austestad Recorded by Audun Strype at the Executioner’s House Mixed by Audun Strype
About Hans Martin Rundberg Austestad Hans Martin Rundberg Austestad, born in 1983, is a Norwegian singer, songwriter and musician. Educated as a jazz singer, Austestad also plays many stringed instruments and is specialized in American and Norwegian traditional music, with extra warmth towards the five string banjo. He has been a freelance musician since 2006, has released 10+ albums with his own material, and within these years he has participated on over 40 albums as a frontman, studio musician, producer and technician.