Folk music is on the rise in most countries, is this seeing an increase in the presence of traditional folk in Sweden?
Not really. I haven’t lived in Sweden in 15 years now, but if it is the way it was before I left and I think it is, it’s a pretty niche genre. It’s almost nerdy – to be into traditional folk music, as it is in many places. Of course, in the last decade folk music has gotten more popular, so it’s less of an alien thing, but it’s still not a very present thing. I think you have to have a special interest in music to know these songs, or find them important.
Are there folk clubs?
There’s one I know of in Stolkholm. Other than that it’s still a very folky genre, in the sense that if you are interested then you play them at home or with friends, or family. Or maybe at school.
This latest record was a collection of your favourite Swedish folk songs, and one you recorded with your longtime friend, Elsa Hakansson. Was this a project that started out as something fun before turning into a serious recording project, and how did you come to be playing and thinking about these folk songs?
I’m the Swedish one and Bubba is Icelandic, but she grew up in Sweden for ten years, from 6-16 or something. She had some friends who were very much into singing and had a song book called the Swedish Song Book and they’d spend afternoons singing these songs, and so she knew all these songs better than I did.
My family was not very interested, my dad brought me up on American folk music. I introduced her to that, and she introduced me to my country’s music. We’d talked about recording them with her best friend, and now it just happened. She got more and more turned on to the idea. So we decided to make it happen. We made our own arrangements, and they’re all very minimalist. It comes naturally to us to make things minimalistic and to the core, keep it as simple as you can. I like it especially with these songs, because the melodies are so present, when they’re so naked.
It’s just a bunch of strings, divided into chords. It’s extremely simple to play. I know that there are different versions of this instrument from all over Europe in different folk traditions. The one I play is a Norwegian one, and it’s like 100 years old. There are plenty of them around, because no one cares about them, I don’t know anyone else who plays one – people are just finding them in their attics. Their grandmother or great grandmother used to have it. I like how simple it is, I like how anyone can make music on it.\
My Bubba started off very naturally, almost spontaneous, can you still approach things like that?
Things have definitely changed since we started doing this full time, and became more ambitious. This comes with change, some of that purity of youth has had to move. It does take more work to keep it alive. It’s easy to get caught up in the industry craziness. We talk a lot about it and we’ve taken some time off this fall to get some breathing time and regain some perspective. And decide where we go next. If you keep going then you will burn out eventually, it’s stressful to tour all the time.
We started to make music together purely for our own enjoyment. I was singing doing the dishes and Bubba had just moved in and she asked me if I wanted to harmonise on a song she’d written. I’d never sung with anyone, or written a song, or even thought about being a musician, but I became one because of our friendship. We made music so naturally together and then it became this beautiful adventure we pursued together.