Varelse is a unique combination of various traditions, instruments, and histories. Nyckelharpa, fiddle, six-string guitar and various hand percussion instruments come together to create a groove and sound that is simultaneously old and new. Weaving together Scandinavian folk tradition, North American fiddle tunes, and Western European melodies, along with African and Middle Eastern rhythmic traditions, Varelse is pushing the boundaries of folk fusion.
The band name is the Swedish word for “creature” (and fans of the Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card will recognize it as a term used in his book “Speaker for the Dead”).
A little about me: I grew up playing in a bluegrass family band, alongside an education in classical violin. I was introduced to Swedish folk music by the band Väsen, when they performed at the Wintergrass Bluegrass Festival in 2008. In 2014 I bought my first nyckelharpa, and seven months later I moved to Sweden for a year to study with some of the world’s best nyckelharpa players. I came back to Portland full of polskas and ideas, and started writing my own tunes based on Swedish folk tradition. I recorded a few songs with some friends, but they didn’t live in Portland so most of my tune ideas lay dormant.
A year and some change after I was back in the States, I ran into Steven Skolnik at a show. We had gone to the same high school, and even played in the same youth orchestra (but as he was a percussionist and I was a violinist, of course we never spoke as teenagers). Steven was interested in exploring the combination of hand percussion and nyckelharpa. We got together a few times to talk about music and start working out some arrangements for a few of my original folk tunes. He introduced me to the various percussion instruments he plays, including Doumbek, frame drums, and an interesting new instrument called an “Aludu,” an electric version of an Udu. We performed once together that winter as a duo.
Shortly after my show with Steven, I met Collin Stackhouse at a dinner with some friends. Somehow it came up that we both played fiddle, and I started rambling about Scandinavian folk music. Collin knew a few Nordic Fiddlers Bloc tunes, so naturally we exchanged numbers and made plans to get together an jam. Soon after, Collin invited me to play a gig with him on St. Patrick’s Day. He had also invited his friend Joe Pomianek along, to play guitar. The three of us played two gigs together on March 17th, 2018, and by the end of the day I knew I wanted to combine this trio with the still-new duo project I had begun with Steven. Everyone was excited about forming this new band, so several months later (and after much back-and-forth about a band name) Varelse was born.
We’ve just released our first full-length record. I am beyond thrilled to finally hear some of my compositions come to life with the help of these three wonderful individuals, who are not only amazing musicians but also great human beings. I’m excited to incorporate more of their original compositions, and keep experimenting with traditional tunes. I have been amazed at their ability to flow between styles of playing, and at how well they’ve picked up some of the traditional Swedish folk rhythms. Part of what I love about this band is that we all come from different musical backgrounds, with just enough overlap that we can build off of each other’s experiences and form our own musical language.