Music Features

Wildbirds & Peacedrums (Interview)

Wildbirds & Peacedrums' fantastic second album The Snake has to be one of the great unsung records of 2009. To celebrate its inclusion in our new Believe The Hype section we caught up with percussionist extraordinaire Andreas Werliin to discuss the Swedish music scene and to find out just how an experimental rock band managed to scoop a prestigious jazz award.

Mariam Wallentin and Andreas Werliin (Photo: Jonathan Leijonhufvud)

No Ripcord: I recently wrote a feature on my fifty favourite Swedish bands. The more I researched Swedish music, the more I was struck by the quality and diversity of music that the country has to offer. What do you think are the reasons behind Sweden’s success?

Andreas Werliin: Sweden has a great history of artists that are making creative music and finding ways to go international with it. We have had great opera singers, an amazing prog-scene (Träd, Gräs och Stenar) and then bands like The Knife who are doing great because of their originality and independence. I think the creativity comes from a deep urge to get away from our small towns...

Various people have suggested that community music projects make it easy for young people to get into music and that the government is pretty good at supporting artists through grants etc. Are these things you've benefited from, or are these outdated ideas in 2009?

When I grew up everyone I knew was playing instruments in the community school. These music schools are on the way to disappearing; few students apply and the financial support is shrinking every year. We also had our own rehearsal space that was supported by the city; they were perfect for parties and stashing alcohol in a safe spot away from your parents! Everyone was in a band, good times.

Today we do have a system that allows you to get financial help for touring or recording from the cultural department. This is a very sensitive subject because a lot of great bands don’t get supported because of their not so “cultural” image. It’s a big machine that some people have learned to use to their advantage, while others have failed and have to do it all by themselves. I guess we are somewhere in between – we have had help with recording but all of our touring is self-financed.

From an outsider’s perspective, Gothenburg seems to have an amazingly vibrant scene. A lot of the Sincerely Yours / Service artists seem to be following a fairly similar path with that brand of Balearic electronic pop. Although your music is very different, is this a scene you’re interested in? Do you feel a kinship with any of the other Gothenburg bands?

Not at all. We come from the experimental/improvisation scene – but we found an urge for consistency in music and started writing songs. Christian Pallin (arranger for the club Koloni) is the man that found us and brought us out to light.

Who are your favourite Swedish acts?

Favorite songwriter is Rambling Nicolas Heron from Gothenburg – he deserves a lot more attention. Favorite musician, all genres, is Mats Gustafsson – explosive! We are also very proud of being Swedish alongside El Perro Del Mar, Jenny Wilson, Hans Appelqvist, Lykke Li and of course Meshuggah. 

I was intrigued to hear that you won the Jazz in
Sweden Award last year. Had you thought of your music as jazz prior to this, and did winning what I understand is a very prestigious award change the way you approach or think about your own work?

We accepted the reward by promising ourselves that it shouldn’t change our approach to our music in any kind of way. We hoped to make a change in the reactionary jazz scene by showing musically interested kids that hated jazz that jazz maybe isn’t so bad after all, and kids that were interested in jazz that jazz doesn’t have to be about showing off your skills by “sensitive, complex playing”… It’s just music as in all other genres.

The Snake is beautifully recorded and the drums in particular sound amazing. Did the Jazz in Sweden prize money afford you more freedom in the studio to realise your vision this time round?

We had a pretty clear vision right after our first record Heartcore as to what our next one would be like – darker and more explosive, more like the way we sound live. The award came with just the right timing for us to do that.

What is the typical song-writing process for Wildbirds & Peacedrums?

It’s basically the two of us in room filed with instruments, fighting more then playing, and suddenly we have a rhythm or a melody that soon grows in to a song.

Is it difficult to separate your creative/musical lives from your personal relationship?

For both of us music and travel is what we’ve always wanted to do – now we just do it together.

I really loved the instrumentation on The Snake. The steel drums in particular sound like a perfect fit, providing a more melodic brand of percussion. What made you think of steel drums?

The common thing about our instrumentation is that it’s all very hittable – there should be no barriers between feeling and action. The steel drum is a beautiful sounding instrument that you can hit so it suited perfect!

I saw you play to approximately twenty people in
Sheffield and was absolutely blown away by your enthusiasm to entertain the lucky few who turned up. I know doing a full UK tour can be a costly affair for foreign bands, especially more experimental artists. Have your experiences playing to smaller crowds affected the way you’ll approach future tours?

We have played all kinds of venues and for all kind of crowds since the start – the first UK tour we did by train. We’ve never had any tour support that allows a big crew and your own backline and we have toured China so we are well prepared for whatever the future will bring us.

What was it like touring

The response was amazing. We played these lecture halls, 800 people, and the show was promoted as “classical music from Sweden” – when we started to bang on our drums like there was no tomorrow, on a sound system from the 70s with wireless mikes mixed from a room behind the stage, it got crazy. You could really feel that these hard working students needed the music. 

It seems like you’ve been doing a lot of touring this year. Have you had a chance to think about or even write material for your next record? What do you envisage the third W&P album will sound like?

It takes so much effort to perform and travel that there’s almost no energy left to be creative. So we can brag with not a single new song in over a year! I have a feeling that it will take some time to record the next one...

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The Snake is out now on The Leaf Label. You can read our glowing 9/10 review here.