Andreas Werliin (left) and Mariam Wallentin thrive on spontaneity.
WILDBIRDS & PEACEDRUMS opening for LYKKE LI at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Friday (February 6). $22.50. 416-870-8000.
Good thing in-demand percussionist Andreas Werliin hooked up with aspiring singer Mariam Wallentin five years ago while they were students at Sweden's Academy of Music and Drama in Gothenburg. Otherwise, he'd likely still be playing support roles in one or more of Stockholm's improv jazz ensembles led by Mats Gustaffson or the various offspring of Don Cherry.
Instead, Werliin and Wallentin decided to pool their limited resources and do their own crazy drum 'n' voice thing, establishing the entirely self-contained performance and production unit Wildbirds & Peacedrums.
Unless you happen to have the creativity and vocal dexterity of someone like Karin Krog, your basic vocals-and-percussion concept can get boring very fast. Somehow, the combination of Werliin's entrancingly ritualistic drumming and Wallentin's inventive melodic turns just clicked. Fortunately, they're both resourceful enough to constantly introduce unexpected twists that keep things exciting.
"When we started playing together, just the two of us, we weren't sure how it would work. I had some ideas for percussion patterns, and she had some fragments of song lyrics, and we improvised," says Werliin, on the phone from a hotel room in Philadelphia.
"We found that as I came up with different progressions, Mariam could fit her voice around what I was doing on drums so we didn't get in each other's way. She had this amazing ability to come up with these beautiful melodies spontaneously that would turn a really simple idea into a song very quickly. It was important to have good, solid songs to play."
Prior to Wildbirds & Peacedrums' breakthrough disc, Heartcore (The Leaf Label), they put out two homemade jobs, limited-run CD-Rs packaged in hand-stitched cloth envelopes. According to Werliin, "somewhere between 50 and 100 copies" of each recording were sold at gigs to pay for gas, and he sounds relieved that they're all gone.
"Those were our early experiments in recording. Just her voice, my drum kit and some cheap microphones. The pieces were longer then and much more complex. In the process, we learned how much was enough, which better prepared us for making Heartcore. We're determined to say more with fewer strikes and notes."
The effusive critical acclaim that 2006's Heartcore received after its North American release last year could mean that those slightly embarrassing first Wildbirds & Peacedrums recordings will soon be circulating in cyberspace, if they're not already.
Fans of the group won't have to wait long for a proper studio album follow-up, however. Their new disc, The Snake, is slated for an April release in North America.
"After stripping everything down for Heartcore, we wanted to try something a bit bigger - not more musicians involved, just a wider variety of sounds and structures.
"We had the good fortune to be able to record at the incredible Soundtrack of Our Lives studio built and run by their bassist, Kalle Gustafsson, who made available all of these exotic instruments and rare analog gear - microphones, amplifiers and everything else.
"He's even got the Neve mixing board used by Led Zeppelin, which cost him so much he had to start living in the studio. To say Kalle's obsessive is an understatement."
live at Bohemia Jazz Fest 2008
live at Berlin Jazz Fest 2008