The music of longtime Cedar favorites Väsen unites a sophisticated symphonic five-string viola, an adventurous 12-string guitar, and a nyckelharpa (a “keyed fiddle”) to create a sound that is both deeply rooted in the traditions of Swedish folk music and yet joyfully delights in the inspiration and improvisation of the moment.
We spoke with nyckelharpa player Olov Johansson in advance of their show on Friday, September 22nd about keeping collaborations fresh, Väsen’s new material, and the next generation of Swedish traditional musicians. Read the full interview below, and get tickets for their show here.
Q: You’ve played at The Cedar many, many times now. What is your favorite part about coming back to Minnesota?
A: There are many nice things about coming back to Minnesota over and over again – seeing old friends that you don’t see so often for example – but the favorite part is to play a gig at the Cedar with an excited crowd in front of us. The whole vibe in there is hard to beat.
Q: You are currently going on your 27th tour together as a band. How do you continue to keep your collaboration fresh?
A: We have learned over the years what to avoid that creates bad moods in the band. Starting from a pretty good mood it’s much easier to have fun together when we meet and I’d say that surprising each other musically is an important part of keeping the freshness. New tunes, new ideas feed the inspiration. We are still the same people and we play the same instruments but within those frames, we like to explore what new paths can be discovered. Another important part is that we play in other bands and with other musicians as well in between the Väsen periods. That gives us the possibility to explore musical ideas that might not fit so well in Väsen. But that also puts the very refined interplay we have in Väsen in perspective.
Q: Your website says you returned to the studio in January to record new music. What came out of that recording process? What can fans expect in your new music?
A: They can expect a concert with many new tunes that sometimes sound like a typical Väsen-polska but sometimes don’t and the next one doesn’t! I think the tunes in the new material each have very strong character.
Q: Your origins are deeply rooted in Swedish folk music traditions. How do you see the next generation of musicians keeping Swedish music alive?
A: There are many young musicians and bands coming! But it has become more difficult to travel to USA to play (because of visas and higher visa fees) so you probably don’t see many of them in Minnesota.
Q: What’s inspiring you lately?
A: To me personally, it’s been very inspiring to make friends with a new nyckelharpa that has other possibilities than my old one.