New Sweden isn't a more historically inclined Boston, even if their name does spring from the original name of their home turf (Delaware - which, I'd say, would have sounded better if it had stayed as New Sweden). The band though is worthy of some attention. Their first full length, 'The Mountain' is a great album, and definitely has tinges of their many influences without just being imitation. Each of the five members of New Sweden took a little time to answer some questions, so you should consider taking the time to pick up their album, it's definitely worth it (you can pick the album up HERE for just eight dollars).
The members (and instruments played) of the band are:
Billy Dobies - primary lead vocals, guitar, mandolin, and more
What is the most important thing a singer can do to make their band better? Believe in themselves, as well as the band they are with. If you mean what you are saying, everything comes across as the emotion that is intended. Also, have the mindset that the show must go on. We all know every show doesn't have the perfect conditions. It can be very frustrating when the sound is off, or maybe someone isn't paying attention. In that sense, it's crucial to play every show as if they are all worth something. The amazing thing is the age gap that the music seems to have. It's great to perform music that can be enjoyed by more than one age group or type of person.
How would you explain the sudden influx of alt-country/whatever style cool kids wanna call it, these days? I'm not sure I can explain that one. I would imagine the radio has something to do with it. They'll pick and choose a band like Mumford and Sons and play them until every last person has heard it. This leads to discovering other similar artists, until it becomes the cool kids trend. Or, maybe its just cycling like everything always has.
What does your songwriting process look like? How is the rest of the band involved? My songwriting process is all over the place. I'm never sure where an entire song comes from. Ideas seem to float in my head and continuously rotate depending on my mood or location. Often enough, I am probably over-thinking a tune and trying to finish an idea before I take it to the band. After the band hears the idea and the emotion, everyone adds their personal touches. Then, it becomes a New Sweden song. Sometimes, it's a very quick process. Other times, it becomes a long and tedious headache with lots of opinions. Both ways are well worth it, and I'm always surprised where the songs end up.
Where did the name come from? James found the name on Wikipedia. After throwing around several other ideas, New Sweden somehow made sense. Not far from us is where the Swedish docked and made their first colony. They expanded their territories into NJ and PA. So, it's a bit of history that ties in to our little neck of the woods.
James Dukenfield - lead vocals, banjo, organ, and more
What path led you towards the type of music you're helping create with New Sweden? Well, I guess I've always been into singer-songwriters and have always identified myself as a singer-songwriter but at the same time I really enjoy the collaboration aspect of being in a band and working together to create something even better than the original idea. In New Sweden I get to be both the singer-songwriter and the band member.
What makes a band truly great? If I knew what makes a band truly great than New Sweden would be on tour with Bruce Springsteen. Sometimes it's attitude, sometimes it's technique, sometimes it's how creative they are. For a band to be great in my opinion, they have to have a balance of all three and good lyrics to top it off.
What are some groups that you consider to be exceptional? The Decembrists, Bowerbirds, A. A. Bondy, the Felice Brothers, Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, Plants and Animals, Delta Spirit, Dr. Dog, and Wolf Parade, The Low Anthem, just to name a few.
Could you tell me a little about every instrument you play? I started with the guitar when I was 13. The story is pretty typical. I wanted to be in Nirvana so I got a guitar. It wasn't until my 20's that I started taking it seriously and started branching out to other instruments. I bought a banjo with part of a tax return the spring before New Sweden formed. I used to work in a store that wasn't very busy so I would bring in the banjo and practice all day. After seeing the Low Anthem in concert I obsessed about finding a pump organ that would fit in my car... so I searched on Craigslist everyday until I found a junior pump organ for $200. I bought a mandolin and it collected dust until we started New Sweden. I'd say mandolin is my least favorite to play. When it starts to feel like I'm writing the same song over and over again I usually switch to a different instrument and start over.
Zac Dukenfield - percussion
What do you consider to be your role in new Sweden? Hmm....Keeping everyone from killing each other...nah. I just want to play good music and progress as a drummer. I'm still new to playing. So I think the rest of the band expects to see me get a little more creative and keep on keeping on! Oh yeah besides music, I send all the posters and CD's. So if you buy one, I'll lick the stamp and touch it for free.
What is your favorite part about drumming? My favorite part of drumming has to be learning new stuff. I amaze my self when I figure out that I can do something different. I get sick of the ol' boom boom tap, boom boom tap. So I find my self getting influenced by other drummers. And I'm sure everyone takes ideas from others, that's the fun part. The parts I don't like about drumming is that everything breaks and lugging around a bunch of stuff.
Is Neil Peart really the best drummer of all time? If not, who is? Neil Peart is a highly skilled drummer! But I never really got into Rush. I think he's great in his own style, but I like to see someone like Brandon Young from Delta Spirit or Jason McGerr from Death Cab for Cutie with a new organic style. I listen to and appreciate so many other bands and drummers that it's hard to pick a favorite. If I was asked this 10 years ago I'd say Dave Grohl or John Bonham (Bonzo the beast).
Any additional thoughts? Nope, but my answers make me sound like a smart ass.
Caroline Stratton - viola, organ, bells
Why has the viola always been the less-played cousin of the violin? I've always been told that in the early days of classical music, the professional musicians were more likely to play the violin, so the viola was more of a layperson's instrument. Less people playing the viola leads to less music written to showcase the viola, which compounds the issue. Playing the viola can also require more physical exertion based on its large size and the size and dexterity of the player.
What do you think makes New Sweden unique or special? New Sweden is unique because of the way that individual talents meld in to the band. Everyone contributes a critical ear, good ideas, and a personal style to the music.
How did you all meet? I met Jimmy and Billy through Craigslist. Jimmy and Billy had begun playing together and placed an ad for a violinist or a cellist. I had recently moved to Delaware and I was not actively looking for a music project but I decided to contact them. Lucky for me, it turned out to be a great fit and a wonderful way to meet people. Zac, Jimmy's brother, joined and then Dan also saw us on Craigslist.
Do you have any formal training? I've taken music lessons (piano, violin, viola) since age five and spent a lot of time playing solo, in chamber music groups, school orchestras, and youth symphony. I continued to play in chamber music groups through college.
Dan Weirauch - bass, and more
In a band where there is a lot going on musically, how does a bassist make sure that he contributes positively? This has certainly been a challenge. Before New Sweden I've only been a bass player for a Pittsburgh based gutter-grunge band called "Porkchop Xpress", but in a lot of ways I think the lack of bass experience has helped me keep from muddying up the melodic instruments with too much noodling around. I try to lock-up with Zac the drummer as much as possible to carve out a groove that is felt more than heard, and sprinkle in some quick fills to bracket different parts of the song. On another note, I contribute by singing harmonies, jumping around, and hitting a tambourine when it tells me it wants to be hit.
What is your favorite part about being in New Sweden? My favorite part about the band is the camaraderie. I've never clicked with a group of musicians, or any group for that part, more than this posse. The friends of the band, fans, and whole Tri-State community of music lovers are fantastic people too. It makes playing and performing the music that much more enjoyable, and it's why I think New Sweden is what it is: a passionate group of otherwise lost individuals.
Guitarists sometimes seem a bit obsessive about their equipment, do you find that bassists are the same way? Do you have a favorite brand? Or favorite bass? Ha. I'm the least gear-headed musician you'll find. I think spending ridiculous amounts of money on instruments, amps, and pedals is proper ridiculous. I find the bassists that I've met to be less obsessive than guitarists, but nothing irks me more than mega stack amps since 99% of sound guys pipe the signal direct off the guitar into the sound system. I like a warm sounding bass, so if you can achieve that with a 1985 Andalusian 10 fret starter ax, more power to you. I used to play a Sammick, but it got stolen from a Chili Cook Off so maybe I'll pick up that Andalusian next.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a band? Play music with people you enjoy the company of and with whom you can have open discussions. It's like dating, if you don't have that spark and respect, and can't compensate stylistically and logistically, then it won't last past date two. Be prepared to abandon your idea of what you want to be and just let the sound develop on its own. Be original and don't play covers, it's counterproductive.