Sometimes music instigates fairytales. Valkyrien Allstars is one such: Three young Norwegian fiddlers see themselves trotting the world, called upon to energize audiences – from Japan to Holland, America to Russia – with the flammable musical brew that is their unique trademark. A blend of Norwegian traditional tunes and popular music in its every guise: Rock, blues, jazz and just about everything else that comes into a young person’s ears. In January they travel to Celtic Connections to demonstrate how the gunpowder works, but before that a tour of Japan is on the rostrum.
“We were offered to do three different tours there, before even having set foot in the place,” relates Valkyrien Allstar Ola Hilmen. “It all has to do with Folkelarm (the now blooming Norwegian folk music convention); the Japanese representatives there must have really liked what they heard from us, because the offers were not long in coming.”
A natural question to ask is what exactly the Japanese found so captivating about the Norwegian fiddleworks; is a matter of the extremely exotic or is the answer rather to be found in the fact that Valkyrien Allstars incorporates so many musical traits in its brew that it comes across as global?
“First of all, it remains to be seen how we will fare over there,” says Ola. “But I think it has to do with a combination of the uniquely Norwegian, which is exotic of course, and the way we draw on many different musical sources that are known everywhere. However, most of all, I think it is the energy that we display that people find arresting.”
In Norway Valkyrien Allstars earned the epithet “explosive” the very instant they entered the music scene for real. The band’s eponymous debut from 2007 became something of a byword for whatever is vital and fresh. The amalgam of many genres and emotions was one thing, the youthful energy with which it was all done something else.
“The full frontal approach is always close to our hearts, and if there is one key word that describes the band I guess it must be energy and a love of “letting loose,” Ola explains. “We make use of all that we can bring to bear as individuals in terms of personalities and inspiration – which is often very differentiated – but we have found a formula that ignites the interplay in such a way that the energy we create has become a kind of leitmotif. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that we were friends before we became a band, and not the other way around. Valkyrien Allstars is based on a deep sense of openness and honesty between us, which makes it a lot easier to just let the music happen, as it will.”
Valkyrien Allstars – Ola Hilmen, Tuva Livsdatter Syvertsen and Erik Sollid – first met at a fiddle course back in the late 90s. They became friends and after some years decided to move in together and create a 24-7 musical collective. This happened in 2003 and just one year later the three were making their first national appearances in Norway.
“Our way of working is very disorderly. We simply bring whatever we have a feel for, or new things we have discovered, into the band and just see if it works. A lot of our music is a matter of coincidence and we never really sit down to compose; not individually and not as a band. On the contrary we are always jamming and improvising. It is almost a pathological trait, something that comes from the blurry lines between living together and playing together.”
Despite the disorderly creative process, Valkyrien’s second record,,2009’s Two Moons, is a little more pensive than the debut.
“It just turned out that way,” says Ola. “We made one song at a time and didn’t really reflect on the overall mood while we went along. So it became a littler more pensive and quiet all on its own I guess. But we did have much more time working on this record than we did on the first, and it felt like a really good unrushed process, which also entailed that the songs were created as fuller arrangements from the start. On Two Moons drums and bass are a lot more integrated than on the debut.
The band is still a trio though, all the while it is the original three that write all the music. But drums and bass are now a constant part of their sound, giving the fiddles and vocals a wheeled vehicle to roll on.
Ola elaborates, saying, “The line-up we have now works incredibly well, and I dare say it’s a keeper! Aslak Dørum, our producer, has really committed himself to Valkyrien Allstars and he has been important for condensing our vision and making it punch right where we want it to.”
Valkyrien Allstars have the credo that no person should leave a concert unaffected.
“I don’t know who came up with that,” says Ola, “but it is a basic truth of course, of being performing artists. However, there is no such thing as a particular emotion or set of such that we want to convey, except perhaps for the experience of being energized. On Two Moons there are so many different strands of emotion in circulation, and naturally everyone is affected in different ways.”
Two Moons features many elements that might be described profound in nature. The band has made use of lyrics from great writers such as Shakespeare, Ibsen, Olav. H Hauge and Halldis Moren Vesaas.
“Our vantage point as folk musicians is that we might contribute in conveying some of the great lyrics that exist, which most people are unaware of,” says Ola. “Especially in terms of Norwegian writers, of course; that is an essential part of being a folk musician really – the interplay between conveying existing expressions and dealing in musical innovation. However, on the latest record we have also begun to write ourselves, or to be accurate, Tuva has begun to write lyrics, with our support. It is a new thing for us to work with our own lyrics. The whole modus becomes more personal, and in a way I think that is something we might want to explore further. But it is very difficult though, and quite different from our normal disorderly way of making music.”
As for Celtic Connections and Showcase Scotland the Allstars are full of anticipation.
“We have heard of the special atmosphere and the packed houses at Celtic Connections,” Ola explains. “It is a very promising context for us, I dare say, so naturally we are looking forward to it very much.”
The rest of 2010 will see Valkyrien Allstars travelling to new distant destinations; the U.S., probably Mexico, Russia and most definitely more places to come.
“We are really very lucky to be able to travel like this and play our music,” says Ola. “It is great to experience that there is a real market for our expression outside of Norway.”
at the ‘Spotlight on Norway’ event during Showcase Scotland remain high on the band’s agenda.