Hoven Droven's Nordic-Rocking Return to The Cedar's Global Roots Festival

The Swedish band Hoven Droven (Swedish for “Helter Skelter”) are returning to The Cedar Cultural Center stage on September 15th.  They are one of the original bands that performed at The Cedar’s Nordic Roots Festival, now known as The Global Roots Festival, a free community event with live local and global music.  

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One really nice thing about this group, is that when we meet, we can play and still have inspiration and make new music with each other, this is a big thing with this band.
— Kjell-Erik Eriksson (fiddler)

Michael Lord, Cedar Assistant Director of Events and longtime Hoven Droven friend, and MJ Gilmore, Cedar Box Office & Office Manager, spoke with percussionist Björn Höglund and fiddler Kjell-Erik Eriksson, two members of Hoven Droven’s five-member band. Michael and MJ Skyped from The Cedar’s green room, while Björn and Kjell joined us from Björn’s apartment in Sweden.

Björn immediately greeted us by showing his in-depth Kiss collection, including Japanese-pressed, Obi-stripped vinyl records, an addiction that was reignited by a gift from Michael.  

Michael: So what I think is cool about this is MJ asked me to be a part of this interview, so you have me who is an old fan, obviously, and MJ who is just now being exposed to your music.

MJ: Yes, we are thrilled to have you back at The Cedar Cultural Center!  What are some of your favorite memories of playing at The Cedar and what are you looking forward to for your upcoming show here on September 15th?

Björn: I remember a big thing, that the audience is a very nice audience, and every time we play at The Cedar, we feel like we are really loved by the audience and that’s amazing.  And also, the people around The Cedar, we’ve always been treated like we are best friends, it’s really nice.

Kjell: True!

Björn: We came the first time in 1997, I think, before the Nordic Roots Festival, so I think we were one of the first bands that Rob Simonds brought over when he started the Northside label (Minneapolis, MN label), if I’m not mistaken.  So we have obviously a long history with The Cedar and other people, around the label and around The Cedar which has been amazing.

MJ: The Groove album was your first album on the Northside label?  This was a compilation of your first two albums?

Björn: Yes, correct, and then of course The Cedar is always imprinted in our history because of the live album we did in 2006.  

Michael: Jumping at The Cedar

Björn: It had to be there, even though we had no idea at the time.  

Kjell: You knew!

Björn: I knew, yes!  I don’t know if you know this story, but we had tried to make a live album for years and never really nailed it, because every time the red light went on, every show we knew was being recorded, it just didn’t feel right, because we knew it was being recorded.  So I think it was in 2006. Was that you Michael that had the equipment to record all of the shows?

Michael: No, probably Chris Frymire, our sound guy.

Björn: I can’t remember if I heard about it, or if I saw it, or just made sure the show in 2006 was being recorded, and I didn’t tell the other guys, because I knew this was going to be something special.

Michael: So you’re saying prior attempts, you guys kind of froze, when you said the red light came on?

Björn: Exactly, and you take that feeling with you when you hear the tapes afterwards. Probably if you listen back to them now, they were all good shows, but the feeling you have when you play the show, was like, You better do this right!  They probably were all good recordings, but this was a much better way, to not know, and it was a fantastic night. I brought the files over to Sweden and mixed it and gave it to the guys as a Christmas present.

MJ: And that was the first time that they found out that show at The Cedar was recorded?

Björn: Yes. Rob Simonds loved it and our then label in Sweden loved it, so they put it out as a live album and it went on to receive a Grammy nomination here in Sweden.  So that’s all The Cedar!

Michael and MJ: Yes! The Cedar and Hoven Droven!

MJ: Your music has been described as Nordic/folk-rock. How do you describe your music/vibe?

Björn: Yes, that’s a pretty good definition.  Whenever we come to the United States, when we first came, we had no idea how people would react to us, because when we play in Europe and Scandinavia, people know this kind of music we have, it’s in their backbone, but in the United States, there is no relationship to Swedish traditional music, so when we are playing in America, they sort of consider us as jazz-fusion, or something, we’ve had comparisons to Frank Zappa.  They don’t know that it is necessarily traditional Nordic music, just good music, which is fine.

Michael:  I actually like the Zappa comparison!

Björn: It sort of makes sense, if you don’t have the traditional aspect on it, which Scandinavian people do.

MJ: I noticed that your first three albums were instrumental, and then you added vocals to your fourth album, your fifth album was acoustic, and then back to more rock on your sixth album on.  How have your albums transitioned/transformed over the years?

Björn: I don’t think we ever gave it much thought, other than the vocal.  When that happened, we sort of felt like we had to do it, more than we had a good idea of what to do, we just tried to do anything.  We just tried to get vocals in there, we were very experimental with it. I think some of it turned out really cool. It was all cool music, I don’t know if it was definitely defining of Hoven Droven. I think we have our special sound and the more we try to stray from it—we sort of now have a sphere of our comfort zone.

Kjell: I think it’s also nice that we are an instrumental group and that means that no one in the band is the leader of the band, if you have vocals, that’s the center of the band. We are all the center of the band. That is also how we can collaborate and play with others, like with vocals and we also played with a big orchestra. We play with others in a nice way, because none of us is a singer, we’re the same.

MJ: I noticed you also collaborated with the techno musician E-Type?

Björn: Yes, we did!  Do you know who that is?

Michael: Yes, we watched a few internet videos!

Björn: E-Type was a one-off project for a television show. The topic was, “Can you workout to any type of music?” E-Type was over-represented in gyms all around the country. It was a challenge--workout folk music! It was a fun one-off project, it was cool!

MJ: Both Hoven Droven and E-Type have that kind of danceable energy, I can see how it would be a great pairing!

Björn: Yes, exactly!  And the dynamic of the songs—turning it up and down, it’s all about that, it was fun.

Michael: I was going through the photos on your website, have the five of you all been together from the very beginning, 29 years?

Kjell: Yes, in the beginning we had a trumpet player, Gustav Hylén.  He left after seven years and started a record label and studio.  So we recorded two or three albums there.

Michael: Nice! It was fun to see those photos of you guys as babies!

Björn: There was a lineup before that.  

Kjell: Me and Jens Comén, the saxophone player, were students of the same music school (1989 Birka Folk High School, Östersund, Sweden) and we started playing with each other, and Jens knew Björn from a different band, and I knew the bass player and his girlfriend played the flute, and a guy in my class that played the guitar.  We all met up in school and rehearsed. We started in 1991 and formed the band as it looks today.

MJ: Since 1993 you have received a government grant for your tour support.  How does it feel to be supported by your government/country?

Björn: It is a cool thing! It’s not necessarily easy to get it. Once you have it, it’s kind of a grueling process, because every year you have to apply again, give the financial numbers of how the business looks, it’s constant communication, and once you start to go down in the amount of shows or activities, you get less money. So it’s a good system in that way.  Some people think it makes you lazy! It is a kind of recognition. I think the idea of it is that you can take your music to places that you wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. So you can still get your pay as a musician, even though your promoter can’t pay you. You can use that money to ease some travel expenses, or even the paycheck. In that way it is a good idea.

Michael: Does a lot of that happen within the country, and/or does it support you traveling around the world, too?

Björn: It used to be if you went to other countries, you would have to apply for another grant, but I think what we have is overall support.

Michael:  We’re having trouble with Mr. Trump supporting the arts here.

Björn:  He’s not very supportive?

Michael: No.

MJ: Last September you released four new tracks on a digital EP.  Are these tracks on a new album?

Björn: It’s really an idea of releasing four songs a year as an EP. So far we haven’t been able to keep up! It was just that EP, but there are some ideas, but we haven’t been able to rehearse or record anything lately.

Michael: Are they just digitally released, or is there a physical album?

Björn: No just digital.  The idea was to release 4 EP’s a year and then cherry-pick tracks to make a physical album or vinyl.

Kjell: We can still do that!

Björn: We should do that!

MJ: What is inspiring you right now?

Björn: We had a really nice summer!

Michael: How about new family members and babies?!

Björn: Babies, yes!  When I have time to reflect, yes!

Kjell: One really nice thing about this group, is that when we meet, we can play and still have inspiration and make new music with each other, this is a big thing with this band.

MJ: Rob Simonds is the former Cedar Cultural Center executive director, founder of The Nordic Roots Festival and founder of the Northside record label.  Rob shared with us that one of his favorite Hoven Droven experiences is when he visited Kjell’s home in  Östersund, Sweden in 2004.  He said that on Kjell’s walls were a vintage black and white photograph of an old Swedish fiddler, and on an adjacent wall was an AC/DC poster.  Rob felt these two posters captured the essence of Hoven Droven! Kjell, do you remember this, and do you recall the name of the fiddler on that poster?

Kjell: In my room where I grew up there was a poster of the Swedish fiddler Olle Falk (brother Ante Falk), he was born in 1886.  I have lots of recordings of him. He was a big influence on me when I was 16/18 years old.

MJ: Bruce Molsky, Molsky’s Mountain Drifters, will be performing at The Cedar at the end of September.

Michael:  We have very fond memories of your collaboration with Bruce in Green Room and in the lobby the hotel you stayed at, I remember very vividly. I was actually moved to tears by Kjell and Bruce playing together in the lobby, I just couldn’t stop sobbing.

Kjell: I remember that.

Michael: You have the photo of that on your website.

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Kjell: You’ll have to say Hi to him from us!  I have contact with Bruce, and we are going to meet at the Lotus World Music Festival in Bloomington, Indiana.

Björn: How many times have we played in Minneapolis?  Must have been 10 times maybe?

Michael:  I remember an in-store appearance you had at this tiny record store called Roadrunner Records. With Jens running up and down the isles with his saxophone!  So beautiful.

Björn: Is it still around?

Michael: It is, it’s half the size it was. You know how record stores are being affected. That said, we do have a great vinyl scene here in Minneapolis, still, which I’m really grateful for.

Björn and Kjell: Uh-oh!! (referencing their love for vinyl)

Michael: Actually, one of our former house managers and still a dear friend, named Mike Elias, realized his dream of opening a vinyl-only record store in St. Paul, just across the river. It’s called the Barely Brothers Records. You’ll have to get over there!

Björn: Yes, we do. And he has a big selection of vinyl records?

Michael: Yes, he does.  He has a little stage for live music, it’s beautiful. He has someone DJ every Friday, and they have to use records from his used stock, and then he gives you a $50 credit to buy records there, that’s how he pays you!

Björn: Fair, enough, I’d do it, wonderful!  I remember I was playing records after a show at The Cedar, and I found the Kiss originals album, do you remember that?  

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Michael: Oh, yeah!

Björn: And I had never seen that, I read about it when I was a kid, and I had never actually seen the album.  I did not play anymore records, I just sat in a corner just staring at it! Did you give it to me? I think you did.

Michael: I hope I did, that sounds like me!  The first Kiss album I got was those three together like that. I asked my mom to buy it for me and she said “You have to know at least three songs,” and the only song I knew was Rock and Roll All Nite, but she still bought it for me!!!  I lied to her!!!

Björn: I bet she could tell you could not joke about this.  This is for real, this is serious stuff, I need this album!

Michael: Very true.  She knew, she was always very supportive of my love of music.  My parents started it, she was an Elvis and Beatles fan, so it started there…and then it went to Kiss!!!

Björn: You saw pictures with my daughter Lily and the band?

Michael: I used pictures with you and your wife with Gene Simmons on her stomach as a screensaver for quite a while—beautiful!

Björn: Oh, you did?! Kiss posted that on their social media!

Michael: Congratulations, you look happy!

Björn:  I’m glad she could meet the band, she was only three weeks old! That was a good day!

Björn:  It’s going to be so great to come back, it’s going to be fantastic!

Kjell: This will be a big festival at The Cedar?

Michael: Yes, it’s two bands, you/Hoven Droven and a Somali artist named Aar Maanta on Saturday, and on Sunday Hoven Droven and Aar Maanta are doing a roundtable discussion at The Swedish Institute.  The rest of the festival, Monday through Wednesday, has two bands each night from different corners of the world. None as cool as Hoven Droven!

Björn: Another thing is that we have put up new music since we last came, so there is going to be a lot of new music to play for you.

Michael: Thank you guys for making time for us today!

MJ: Thank you so much, we are so excited to have you here!

Björn: Anytime!  Anything else you would like to ask?

MJ: What is your life philosophy?

Björn: “No music, no life.” You know where I got that from? Tower Records, it was their slogan!

Michael: Safe travel gentlemen, we can’t wait to see you! You made my day!

Björn and Kjell: Bye!

Björn: It’s going to be great! Can’t wait to see you!  We’ll have to listen to some Neil Young, as well. See you soon, bye!

Michael and MJ: Thank you so much!

Tickets for The Cedar's 30th Season Celebration with AAR MAANTA and HOVEN DROVEN on September 15th are available here.