Wildbirds & Peacedrums is a bona-fide duo of the less-is-more-meaningful approach to making music. What Mariam Wallentin and Andreas Werliin create on stage is special; it's her song pitted against his drum that makes my skin tingle. Her voice is like molasses—thick, sticky, rich—coating every click-clack-tat of Werliin's percussionist hits on his snare's shell.
I first saw Wildbirds & Peacedrums a couple of years ago at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland. They were promoting their second album, The Snake (Leaf 2009). It took one web listen of "There Is No Light" to get me to that show.
They've been back since, opening up for Lykke Li later that same year. I missed them then. So, last Saturday's show, again at the Doug Fir Lounge, was my reunion with the Swedish duo. And, it was a good one—they were even kind enough to invite me back to the green room before their set for some Bitch Media B-Sides questions. Cool!
We talked about feminism in their music, their wildest experience since being on tour for the last four years, and what pisses them off about the music industry. I wanted to start the conversation off right, so I asked them about the last movie they saw together. They laughed, having to think about it. Turned out to be last year's Norwegian Wood, based on Haruki Murakami's 1987 novel (Vintage 2000). Mariam thought the film was beautiful. Andreas fell asleep.
What follows is a Q & A recap, starting with my second question about the international Polar Music Prize Ceremony. Last year Wildbirds & Peacedrums performed Björk's "Human Behaviour" with a backing orchestra + choir—atypical for the duo—in front of Björk. She was one of two laureates awarded for international achievements in music. Mariam calls it the Nobel Peace Prize of the music world (one of this year's laureates is Patti Smith). So, I had to know what that was like for them:
B: What was it like performing in front of Björk last year? Were you nervous?
M: Well, it was amazing. Björk cried at the end.
B: Why did you choose "Human Behaviour?"
M: It felt right; it's raw.
B: That's funny you say raw because that's how I describe your sound.
M: Someone told us we were like maximal-minimalists and I like that.
B: What pisses you off about the music industry?
M: It's so global these days.
A: Our living depends on an ancient machine controlled by old men; [we're] victims of the system—they see numbers. Selling out is like infection, [but] in the end, we realize it's the music that matters.
B: Is your music feminist in its response to that?
M: We started playing as a duo to break the rules. It's about balance and feeling strong in equal measure, without someone having to be a victim. We didn't start playing to please other people. We play for ourselves. We play to communicate.
B: So who writes the lyrics?
M: I'm singing them, so of course—I do. [Andreas nods in a yeah-it's-all-her-not-me-I-just-play-drums kind of way] .
And we went on to talk about their time on the road, their time off, the Redwoods, the Grand Canyon, being able to take the time to take it all in, and packing it all up to perform like they did four years ago when it was just the two of them, their bags, a zither without its case, and two inter-rail passes. And then, it was showtime.
Unlike the first show a couple of years back when it was just Mariam and Andreas and a whole lot of bluesy give-and-take between them, last Saturday's show included the duo, Mariam's continual rolls on steel drum, and a third person on backing-synths, all creating a more atmospheric sound. Andreas brought the balance with his drum kit and jam blocks. They performed mostly songs off of Rivers (Leaf 2010), their third album originally recorded as two separate LPs in Reykjavík in a week's time.
Their performance was a crescendo of voice and rhythm, starting off with the more subtle melodic tracks off of Rivers. Midway through though, the rhythm got denser and choppier. At one point, Mariam took off her chic turban and tossed it aside, getting some woos! from the crowd. Everyone was getting comfortable with everyone. There was more feet stomping, hand clapping, and crowd hollers as Mariam and Andreas rolled through the numbers.
But the highlight of the show was during "Tiny Holes in This World." Mariam stepped away from her microphone and steel drum and stood at the corner edge of the stage and sang. No drums. No synths. No nothing. The nakedness of her voice, her song, and her singing, "I can hear the breeze singing for me… Are you coming for me?" brought tears to my eyes—It's like the feeling one would get if they took out all their hurt, their fear, their frustration, their self-consciousness, and put it out for others to hear. A sudden release one doesn't know she needs because she's been living with it for years. Yeah, I was moved.
They went on and performed two encores for the 50 or so people at the show. It was an intimate show, which is exactly how Wildbirds & Peacedrums should be experienced. So, if you're looking to add some raw "maximal-minimalist" ethereal soul of the Swedish variety to your music collection, Wildbirds & Peacedrums is it. They're great on track, but until the sound-engineers figure out how to capture their syncopated synergy on tape, check them out live. Or outside someone's doorstep like they did in Oslo for "The Window," (lyrics can be found here) a track off of their first album Heartcore (Leaf 2008):
And here they are performing "Human Behaviour" (lyrics can be found here) for Björk.
Bitch HQ fancies Swedish pop, rock, and that "maximal-minamilist" ethereal soul. Deb saw Lykke Li when she came through town two weeks ago. Kelsey saw Li back in 2009, when Wildbirds & Peacedrums opened the show. Not many moons ago, Ashley compiled a playlist of the oh-so-cool The Queens of Swedish Pop BitchTapes. Listen in.
Thank you Mariam and Andreas! Safe journeys and happy return.