Music & clubs

A chat with… Wildbirds & Peacedrums

The Swedish duo talks to us about being a band of two and the complexity still possible when working this way.

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Photo by Fabrice Bourgelle

In the four years since almost-premiering at Berlin’s very own Ausland, married Swedish girl-boy duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums – Andreas Werliin on percussion and Mariam Wallentin on everything else – has become one of the more celebrated and progressive bands on the indie scene. Their two latest, Icelandic-recorded EPs, recently released together as Rivers (The Leaf Label), reflect an increasing mastery and ambition, as evidenced by the fact that they’ll be coming to Babylon on October 7 with a 14-piece Icelandic women’s choir.

You sort of started in Berlin.

Andreas Werliin: Berlin has been important for us in many ways. We played one of our first shows ever at Ausland – they booked us because the demo recording we gave sounded so bad, and we got paid in plastic pearls. If you come from Sweden, where the music scene is formed from grey-zone democracy and frozen fish, the DIY energy of the Berlin music scene is something you really appreciate.

Mariam Wallentin: We’ve actually been ready to move to Berlin a couple of times. We’ll see, when we get tired of Stockholm and need some more action, maybe…

What’s it like to be a married couple out on the road?

MW: I’ve never cared much for the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle: that’s not really why I’m in this business. I’m just happy to share my experiences with someone.

AW: In fact, I often play in other touring bands where the family situations are a disaster because of how guilty they feel leaving them at home. The ideal is to bring your loved ones on tour.

Boy-girl duos were a pretty popular iteration after The White Stripes broke (though you sound nothing like them). How did your musical approach evolve?

AW: What The White Stripes showed everyone is that you don’t need a full band to make powerful music – it’s all about the sound and what energy you give.

MW: And when we started to fool around with just the drum kit and voice, we immediately felt we had found a place to be free and very much alive in the music. We just wanted to play music filled with a lot of space that managed to still maintain a heaviness and earthiness. There were a lot of holes for us to fill, but every sound became important, because the less you do, the more it means when you finally do it.

Yet you were originally pigeonholed by the Swedishmedia as “jazz”.

AW: In one way it was disturbing, because we started the band as a reaction against the Swedish jazz scene. But we also felt good about it ‘cause it would show both the jazz listeners and the ones who are afraid of jazz that you can actually play “jazz” this way. But now, finally, people don’t even bother to stick a label on us. Perfect.

That said, your music is growing increasingly complicated, if not jazzy.

MW: Just because we’re a duo it doesn’t mean we need to stay that way forever. Growing means questioning what and why you do something. Because we started out as just two people, it’s always felt very natural for us, but using a choir this time has also become a natural way to do things.

AW: We start with experimentation and “sound searching”. That is our base. Mariam always writes the lyrics: I can’t touch that area. Otherwise, we make pretty much everything together. And from then on in, we simply try to make good songs.

MW: You choose your life, the music you make, and from time to time you need to question why you do that – it’s kind of like a mental cleaning. In the end, our goal is simply to make music we feel connected to.

AW: You can definitely hear when a band is experimenting merely for the sake of experimenting. Last year, we did a show in London with 20 drummers – that was really amazing and powerful. So the next natural step was to invite a choir. When [Icelandic cellist/composer] Hildur Guðnadóttir agreed to make the arrangements with the choir, we started to make the music. We never think about what people would think of us as a band; whether we do this or sound like that. We simply wanted to make a choir record and did it with the best help you can get.

MW: And I’d been dreaming of working with more voices for quite some time, so when the idea of working with choir music started to take shape, I was really thrilled. It’s been a much bigger project than we are normally used to doing: all the practical stuff like finding a choir, finding where to record, making the arrangements, preparing the songs and being able to afford having so many people working with us. But that was also one of the limitations we wanted to break away from: it’s just the two of us creating the music, but hey, if we want to, we can be 14 and make it work. That makes us grow, pushing our own limits and reducing our fears.

And can you hear your own influence the music of others?

AW: That’s impossible to answer when there’s a universal consciousness out there.

MW: I feel that everyone is ripping off my steel drum and zither moves all the time.

GIVEAWAY!!! We’re giving away three pairs of tickets to the Wildbirds & Peacedrums show (October 7 @ Babylon ). Write an email to [email protected] for your chance to win. Please put “Wildbirds” in the subject line of the email and make sure to send by Thursday, October 7, noon.