Bluegrass Beyond Borders: New Valley String Band play Nordic old time music

It ought to come as little surprise to find the New Valley String Band creating a sound that hews to the basics of old time and bluegrass, even if they do so with a decidedly Scandinavian sensibility. A Swedish band, the trio includes Lukas Pettersson Lindberg (banjo and vocals), Michael Nyberg (guitar and vocals), and Adam Bülow (fiddle and vocals). 

The three studied together at Lunnevad Folkhögskola and later, at Malmö Academy of Music. 

“When we met, I had started playing clawhammer style banjo and Michael was studying flatpicking technique for guitar,” Lindberg recalls. “Together we introduced Adam to the old time fiddling style, and since then we have been playing together in some form or another for seven years now.”

Lindberg says the band’s sound taps into Swedish music traditions, while also sticks to a string band sound. “All the group members come from Swedish trad music, and that is something that heavily influences our approach on how we interpret the melodies, as well as our style of arranging,” Nyberg adds. “Our goal is to combine the atmospheric sounds of contemporary Nordic trad music with the stompy and forward-leaning rhythms of American fiddle tunes. We call our style ‘Nordic Old Time’ to highlight the fact that what we’re doing isn’t an attempt to fully recreate a traditional Appalachian string band sound, but rather to create something new and genuine.”

That said, their influences are decidedly diverse. “When it comes to our repertoire, our biggest inspiration is Rayna Gellert and her album Ways of the World,” Lindberg pointed out. “It’s a fantastic album with such diversity in its tunes, and it has been one of our favorites since the beginning. Sam Amidon is one of our greatest inspirations when it comes to treating traditional material with a whole new approach. His minimalist style of arranging, while still creating a large sound, is something we strive to achieve ourselves. We have a lot of favorite artists and ensembles in the Nordic trad scene, but two we must mention are the duo Hazelius/Hedin and the band Bäsk. Their styles of arranging and renewing the sound of traditional songs and dance tunes are some of the best in Sweden.”

Nyberg said that while they’ve mostly performed in their native Scandinavia, they’ve also done a few outside excursions since the band’s initial formation in 2017. “This summer, we had our first real European tour where we covered Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, and the Czech Republic,” he recalls. “We had an amazing time on the tour, making many new connections and friends. It’s something we’d love to do again soon.”

“In August 2022, we played at Grenna Bluegrass Festival, the biggest bluegrass festival in Sweden,” Lindberg added. “One month prior to that, we played at Strenger I Gress, a well known festival in Norway. This summer we performed at Bluegrass in La Roche, France, which is the biggest festival we’ve played at so far.”

At the same time, Lindberg said that the band’s music has gone over especially well in their own country. “Most people in Sweden have been exposed to bluegrass, old-time and country music at some point, and it usually brings a nostalgic feeling with it,”  he suggests. “Therefore, it has been pretty easy to find our crowd and audience. Because we bring in the influence of Swedish folk music, we also give them something more unique and refreshing, an approach that’s been received well so far… even from some musicians who would usually prefer old-time music played in a more traditional way.”

The band released its debut album, New Valley, on May 20. Nyberg describes is as “a collection of our favorite songs, and a mix of old and new material.”

“The first track, Cumberland Gap, is maybe our best example of our attempt to interpret traditional old-time material with our own Nordic touch,” Lindberg maintains. “As of now, most of our material is North American traditional music, but our goal is to include more originals and even some Swedish traditional songs and tunes. We have many ideas and we’re looking forward to exploring them all.”

“You can find the album on most of the biggest platforms like Spotify and YouTube,” Nyberg mentioned. “We hope you like it!”

Both men seem particularly pleased with all they’ve accomplished so far. In that regard, they cite some very specific reasons why bluegrass enjoys international popularity. “Just like the trad music style of many cultures, bluegrass creates an inclusive community where everyone can bring something to it, either on stage or at a jam session,” Nyberg insists. 

“We believe it’s important for people to have some kind of hobbies/activities outside of their daily life, and bluegrass can give that to them,” Lindberg added. 

In the meantime, Nyberg noted that New Valley String Band has its own aspirations. “We would love to get a chance to do some shows in the US someday,” he said. “It would be great to experience how the American audience might react to our style of playing and interpretation, and, at the same time, experience what it’s like to participate in American festivals and fiddle conventions.”

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About the Author

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman has been a writer and reviewer for the better part of the past 20 years. He writes for the following publications — No Depression, Goldmine, Country Standard TIme, Paste, Relix, Lincoln Center Spotlight, Fader, and Glide. A lifelong music obsessive and avid collector, he firmly believes that music provides the soundtrack for our lives and his reverence for the artists, performers and creative mind that go into creating their craft spurs his inspiration and motivation for every word hie writes.