Sofia Talvik – Broken (Steel Guitars In Heaven) – House Concert Review
Vodka has been to many house concerts this Summer even hosting one of them. That has made it a great Summer indeed. Sofia Talvik (with her husband, sound technician, and road engineer, Jonas Westin) was the latest artist. I think my wife said it best: “From the moment she opened her mouth and began singing, she had me.” She introduced us to new music from her as yet unreleased LP (due out August 14, 2023), Center Of The Universe, as well as music from her back catalog.
Broken (seen/heard here) was one of the new songs from Center Of The Universe, and it came complete with a story. As with many musicians at the beginning of the pandemic, Sofia was stranded. She was scheduled to play SXSW, so was in the US, but everything was closing down. No one knew the seriousness of things, but it soon became evident that they weren’t going to be playing any time soon. Her pedal steel player headed home. Later, she spoke to him on the phone. He told her that he wasn’t feeling so well, his chest was heavy and he was having difficulty breathing. He said, “I think I have COVID.” At the time, they were telling people to stay home unless it was an emergency and to take care of themselves there. It wasn’t COVID, but a heart attack that was affecting her pedal steel player, and the results of him staying home and waiting meant that it was too late when he was finally rushed to the hospital. Broken tells the story so well:
“I wish you’d broken all the rules
I wish you’d opened up that door
I wish you’d gotten in your car
And put the pedal to the floor
But rules are rules
And you obeyed
Just like me you were afraid
I wish you’d gone that day
And maybe then you could’ve have stayed
There will be a hole in my heart forever
That will be the shape of you
And darling when your heart was breaking
You were breaking my heart too
You were breaking my heart too”
This sad story, told so well by Sofia, was just one of many beautiful stories and songs that evening. Songs about her homeland (Take Me Home); About old boyfriends (I Liked You Better) which had us all laughing; an audience participation song from the new LP (Oh California); About facing our mortality, Die Alone; about the problems with organized religion (Too Many Churches), and many more.
At the intermission, while purchasing some CDs, I asked Sofia if I could interview her for the blog after the show and she agreed. Here is what came out of that interview. I’ve only done minor editing to try and capture the live feel of the interview.
Vodka: This is a question that I try to ask every artist. How did the pandemic change what you do?
Sofia: I think for me it was like before the pandemic I was so into like the zone of booking, playing, touring, just like this endless type stream of things I was doing, and then when the pandemic happened and we couldn’t go on tour and we couldn’t play and we couldn’t even like reschedule the show… I think it was a little bit of an epiphany that I might have to take a step back and actually kind of step away from that zone. Where like you are into it all the time and just like take a little bit more time for myself, so that’s what I’m trying to do now.
Vodka: So mental health?
Jonas: And rescheduling maybe how we tour. Before the pandemic, we scheduled two US tours every year, and now we have scaled it or compressed it into one tour instead. It could be more intense touring, but it leaves more time to do other stuff (laughing).
Sofia: To be creative and to…because when you are on the road you don’t have any time to be creative really, and so much like, because people only think that you are playing the shows and that’s all that you do, but like the reality is that we sit in Starbucks like 3 hours per day, doing promotion for the shows, book the next tour, and you know follow-up on emails and all that stuff. So it’s quite a bit of (an) office job as well, so there’s not a lot of time to be creative when you are on the road and so if you compress the whole touring situation and then have some more time where you are in one place, you have more time to be creative.
Vodka: Speaking of being creative I noticed, Jonas, that you used something up there that you are using for mixing.
Jonas: (laughter) It’s all magic! No, we kind of started to where we wanted to just be someone with a guitar on stage so we also have a stomp board that Sofia uses for rhythm and a foot tambourine, but also to that, I add vocal harmonies through like a harmonizer but I also add them in sparsely and you know try not to use too much of it. I use it in the right places and also some delay effects because it goes maybe with the Nordic sound of the Americana that Sofia creates. It kind of maybe reminds a little bit of the Nordic big forests or something a little bit ethereal.
Sofia: I also just want to point out that it is all live, there is no backtracks and there is no looping going on.
Jonas: Yes, it’s years of all the perfecting.
Sofia: And this is like a lot of sometimes when we book shows and they are like “Oh yeah, we have an in-house sound tech” and we try to explain that they can’t do what Jonas is doing, and they are like “No, but he’s really great and he’s been doing this for 20 years” or whatever, and I’m like, “well he doesn’t know all my songs by word, by chord. So it’s like a whole different thing, we’re actually more like a duo than like an artist and a sound tech. We are a duo.
Jonas: We try to sometimes describe that I am a sound decider, so I’m like a filter between if we hook into a bigger sound system, where they have a sound tech, it’s like you have to go through this filter first, you know before we come out to the speakers. (laughs).
Vodka: We talked a little bit about the pandemic and how it affected your touring, but what do you see next creatively, or what are you working on now that you are really excited about?
Sofia: Yeah, so we have a new album coming out next month that we’ve been working on very hard this Spring and we are super-excited about it because we did one type of recording that I’ve been wanting to do for many years. The first album I recorded we were-like me and the musicians-all in the studio together and recording together, and logistically it’s very hard to (do). First of all, everyone has to have time to do it… so you end up in the studio for a week and it’s quite costly and you have to get all the people to be there and they have to be in the same place. It’s kind of hard to make that happen, so a lot of the time when you record you record one person at a time and then send the files maybe to someone somewhere else. They would record their stuff and then send it back and that’s how it is. For this time, this recording, I really wanted to do the “we are all in the same room” because I wanted to create this sort of organic, live music situation, to sort of recreate what I’m feeling playing live. So we had two guys that we met last year here in the US in North Carolina and we flew them over to Sweden, and I wanted them to play with me because I thought that they were amazing musicians, they played accordion, the mandolin, guitars, and they sang and they had their own band of course. So I really thought that their style of music or their style of playing would complement my songs. We flew them over to Sweden and then my Swedish bass player… and we all went to this tiny village in the middle of nowhere. It’s been around since the 1500s and it’s now sort of like a cultural center kind of place, and there’s this couple that run it and it’s really out in the middle of nowhere, so we figured this would be nice and quiet, there’d be no traffic, nothing to disturb, and there wasn’t like a studio there or anything, but we brought all of the stuff that we needed to record and lit it up in this old house from the 1800s and sort of created our own studio and then we all recorded together. So now we’ve been working on the mixing, mastering, and all that stuff, and it’s coming out next month in August I believe it’s going to be. So we are very excited about that!
Vodka: I noticed that you aren’t afraid to push social buttons (Too Many Churches) and I appreciate that. I often times think that churches are the biggest problem in the world. It’s not religion that is the problem, it’s churches.
Jonas and Sofia: It’s the institution, the organization.
Jonas: No, I didn’t have a religious upbringing, but I did some of my education in a small school that I think was run by Pentecostals, and I’d never experienced it before, but I felt like the whole organization of a church, it was poorly run and too many rules, and it’s that hierarchy, you know, that I couldn’t really understand. (laughing)
Sofia: No, I mean as soon as you start organizing it as sort of, it’s not just about the faith anymore, it’s all of these other things come into play like, it’s all these people who want to grab power, and they want to control other people, and in this kind of environment where people are searching, they can prey on people that, you know, are looking for something, looking for community, looking for love, and they can prey on these people and that’s what they do, and it’s kind of a lot of what’s going on in the world.
Jonas: And it’s easy sometimes if you have a big church or a huge organization to also push agendas…I mean, It shouldn’t happen, because in Sweden at least, most of the church, and government, and state is separated, and they usually don’t bleed into each other, but I know here in the US it’s different (laughing).
If Vodka had the money, I’d have purchased every one of her CDs. This artist is truly an amazing talent! If she happens to be coming close to where you are, take the time to go see her live. You will not be disappointed!
You can find more information on Sofia Talvik by heading up to her website. Everything is there, including social and streaming links, a store, a tour schedule, a great bio, and more. The music link on her website takes you to her bandcamp.com site where you can (and most definitely should!) preorder Center Of The Universe. Included there is an extensive back catalog of music-all is excellent!
Go see Sofia Talvik live if you can. If you miss her, the next best thing is to pick up her music. You’ll want to do that anyway because you will want to return to this musician and her music often. What a great Summer of music!