January 8th, 2020 11pm Stage 1
"I want to show people that rock and roll guitar doesn't have to be fucking dumb and predictable."
Combining masterful technique and raw emotion, Thor Jensen's music is equally powerful and gritty yet evocative and thoughtful. His new EP, released in March 2019, seamlessly blends classic rock and roll with bluesy American roots music. Electrifying guitar riffs balanced by relatable lyrics take listeners on an exhilarating journey that feels both suspenseful and familiar.
The self-taught guitarist began playing at the age of 10, inspired by the musicianship and compositions of a wide range of artists. Of his primary musical influences, Jensen says, “Music is my greatest influence on my music and me. I know, I know. That's an asshole answer, but it’s true. I love certain artists and styles, but they all play a major role. Tom Waits, Morphine, Jimi Hendrix, Django Reinhardt, Deep Banana Blackout, Dr. Dog, Taj Mahal, Allman Brothers, Fatal Film, all equally important in music and life.” As a teen in Connecticut, Jensen played with local jam bands before joining Portland based rock band, Quiet Life. Over the next four years, Jensen honed his performing chops while touring the US and UK as lead guitarist. His showmanship earned critical praise: "Jensen is able to fill the intimate room with such power and preciseness that one would think the rest of his band is hiding somewhere" (Krystal Lynn Mutschler, Western Sun) and an invitation to join modern guitar virtuoso Stephane Wrembel’s band. After spending more than 15 years performing rock and roll, shifting his focus to gypsy jazz and the music of Django Reinhardt was an exciting challenge for Jensen. "Joining Stephane's band was definitely a big learning curve," he says. "First and foremost was just the sheer amount of Wrembel's material – a few album's worth, at least. And this isn't like, 'Well, this one has a few chords and goes to C.' I had to sit down and just learn. It was tiring because there was also a lot of Django's catalog, which we do live. Between getting that original email and starting the tour, well, I learned what felt like about 150 songs in three months." But the experience proved invaluable for Jensen, as he notes, “from an artistic standpoint, and to understand and assimilate gypsy jazz and this level of guitar playing, I needed this opportunity.”
A rigorous performing schedule and voluminous music catalog helped Jensen to develop a true mastery of his instrument and a deeper appreciation for musical detail. “The rhythms are insane in this type of music. I talk to [Wrembel drummer] Nick Anderson constantly about the smallest details: The specificities of a quarter note and how to make that into a canyon. Doing that night after night teaches you things you never remotely suspected about time and rhythm. You're moving at lightning speed onstage – but for me it all slows down and it's amazing." As Jensen began composing his own music, he felt drawn to return to his rock origins but observed a common bias amongst his peers in gypsy jazz music: "Currently I exist in a world/genre of highly skilled, bad ass guitar players who all give me a funny look and confused reaction when I say that I'm making a rock and roll record and immediately liken it to stupid, formulaic music.” With support from longtime collaborators Ari Folman-Cohen on bass and drummer Nick Anderson, Jensen's debut EP attempts to disprove these notions and move the genre forward by re-introducing the unabashedly raw, imaginative heart and soul of rock and roll. Says Jensen, “I'd like to join the team of people who're out there trying to change those minds."