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Wildbirds & Peacedrums

Snake Charmers

Sep 25, 2009 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Married musicians Andreas Werliin and Mariam Wallentin stick out from the musical landscape of their native Sweden like a pair of sore thumbs. This is, of course, far too limiting a statement. Making music hinged on a unique blend of Werliin’s clever percussion and Wallentin’s over-sized voice, chances are the duo—who perform as Wildbirds & Peacedrums—would stick out anywhere. Not that they’d have it any other way. As Wallentin succinctly puts it, the band’s unique take on jazz, pop, punk and blues “mix[es] a bit more heat with the polished sounds that are made up here [in Sweden].”

Under the Radar caught up with the couple via email to discuss bucking trends, redefining genres, and their sophomore album The Snake.

How did you decide to leave music school? When the movie of your lives is made it’ll be a major scene where you’re pitched out on your ear for this dramatic and strange new way of making music—but something tells me there might be a bit more (or less) to the story.

Andreas Werliin: Actually we didn’t drop out at all—we were top students. So the picture is more like the college dream: paper roll in hand and hats in the air. But then, we didn’t fit in in all that—that’s another thing. Seriously, the education of music is such a difficult thing because it’s all about learning to play music the way the teachers like music. We started early to break the boundaries to all that and tried to make music that we liked. That paid out well.

Mariam Wallentin: You always want to break free from something.

Describe the first time you made music together. Was there an instant realization of the type of music you wanted to make? Or was it a gradual evolution to your current voice and percussion formula?\

Werliin: We were playing in a lot of different constellations in the beginning. For some reason we went from a 5 piece band to 4, then 3—but it wasn’t until it was the two of us left in the practice room that we found the total purity that we were after.

Wallentin: Yes, it just came so naturally. Drums and voice was what we had to play around with in the end and that was like the beginning.

What is your writing process like? How is a song developed?

Werliin:. It starts with Mariam writing some lyrics. Then we’ll fight and walk around in the practice room for an hour or two trying out different sounds and rhythms. When we finally find something, it’s all about finding the easiest and most natural way to play it. If the song doesn’t need more than a drum pattern and a melody, we keep it that way. It’s kind of a physical thing—your body says no when you’re doing something that you should not do.

Wallentin: And if the song needs more color or melody we add that with whatever instrument we find is right.

Obviously you’ve been classified as jazz—winning the Swedish Jazz Act of the Year award along the way. But what other words would you use to describe your sound?

Werliin: The jazz classification is so wrong if you look at the way “jazz” is looked at today. We will never be a part of the modern-jazz respirator that keeps the genre alive. We accepted the award to make a point and show the people that real good music can be anything. 2008 was the year of missionary! In the end we just try to make soulful modern songs with the instruments that we can handle.

Wallentin: For me the jazz I picture us [making] is about freedom and improvisation-playfulness. In that way we can be a jazz band, but then we’re also as much a punk band, a pop band, and a blues band.

You seem to have pioneered a distinctly different form of music from what anyone else makes. What—musical or otherwise—do you look to for inspiration?

Wallentin: Books, people’s talking voices, not standing still, the feeling that you start over every single day.

Werliin:. The biggest inspiration comes from songs that simply makes you feel more then just the average everyday feeling. It’s not about making it through the day—it’s about understanding the relation between heaven and hell. Hybris? Maybe, but the day I’‘ll stand on stage and can’t feel that feeling I’m gonna do something else.

You’ve toured and collaborated with Lykke Li. Who are some of your dream collaborators you’d like to work or tour with in the future?

Wallentin: I want to tour with Tina Turner, sing a duet with Tom Waits, and play steel drum on a Arvo Pärt Choir and Steel Drum piece.

Werliin:. We did a BBC collaboration together with Micachu and the Shapes earlier this year, it was great! Hopefully we can pick that up again.

You’re both involved in several side-projects. Any news from your other creative collaborations?

Werliin:. On the side of the band right now Mariam has a composition called Haiku for Cowboys for 4 Guitars coming up in October. I have a new band called Fire! together with Mats Gustafsson (The Thing) and Johan Berthling (Tape) that’ll release our first record on Norwegian label Rune Grammofon in September. With Wildbirds we will do some other things besides touring in winter. Start working on a piece for W&P with a choir and write music for the Swedish classic quiet film Häxan (The Witch) from 1922.

How has your unique musical take been accepted by the Gothenburg music scene? Has the reaction differed from city to city as you’ve been on tour?

Werliin: Since we are playing so many different venues, every night is a gamble. We like that though—to surprise and hit from underneath. Gothenburg is a supportive but small city. You can’t play there more then once or twice a year and not get burned.

How do you view your place in Sweden’s musical landscape?

Wallentin: Maybe like musical outsiders but with good friends. We can do our thing in the corner, no competition. I feel we’re needed somehow though, to mix a bit more heat with the polished sounds that are made up here.

Has the success of Heartcore changed the way you approach music and touring?

Werliin: When we recorded Heartcore we hadn’t done many live shows at all, the recording was more of a test if our songs worked from a couple of speakers.When we got it released internationally and started to tour, our sound grew bigger and we got more confident on stage.

How do you feel The Snake‘s sounds and themes differ from Heartcore?

Werliin: We took the live experience from the shows with us into the studio for The Snake—the recording process was much shorter and more intense. I think we had a pretty clear idea what the record would be like—bigger and darker. Heartcore was recorded by ourselves with lo-fi equipment, and our instrument collection was very limited. When it was time for next recordingwe had plenty of new sounds to play around with: a chinese gu yang, a persian santor, a steel drum and a marimba and we made it in an very fun studio as well.

Wallentin: Yes, The Snake is much more direct in a way, no hiding and no excuses. We had five days in the studio and really just tried to capture a bit of the moment. We see our recordings more as documents of where we are right then, than something that needs to be worked on over and over again.

With social networking sites giving everyone instant information about everyone, what would your fans be surprised to learn about you?

Wallentin: That’s information that has to wait for the physical books.



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