Bluegrass Beyond Borders: Smalltown Stories take on a larger perspective

The Norwegian outfit known as Trond Svendsen & Tuxedo take a varied approach that imbues a variety of influence, from the more robust strains of grassicana, country, and their down home designs, to high drama and a sound that’s decidedly exotic and emphatic at at the same time. 

That’s evident on their latest album, Smalltown Stories, a follow-up to their widely acclaimed debut Palomino Hotel. It’s filled with verve and vitality, as well as ample tones and textures. Svendsen, who sings with a dark moan that’s strikingly similar to the rich baritone of Johnny Cash, and plays guitar and harmonica, is clearly the prime instigator here, but his band Tuxedo — Vidar Tyriberget (bass, vocals), Lars Linkas (electric guitars, banjo, mandolin, resonator guitar), Tommy Kristiansen (drums, vocals), and Lars Viken (Hammond organ, piano, accordion) — plays a major role as well. As Svendsen says in their press packet, they wanted to make an album that comes across like a soundtrack, one that takes the listener on “a journey through every side of growing up in a small town.” 

“My father used to play records with Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, and George Jones,” Svendsen recalls. “I grew up listening to country music, and very early on, I learned to love it. All the other kids laughed and thought I was weird, but I stuck with that music. I am so happy to see that it’s is strong and alive in Norway today.”

Svendsen said the idea of the band originated with the songs he would record in his bathroom. “It has a particular sound,” he says of that locale. “I mailed three of my songs to a friend of mine who owns a small studio. Without me knowing anything about it, he put one of them, a Ryan Adams cover, on Youtube, shared it on Facebook and wrote ‘Somebody’s gotta play with this guy.’ Lars picked up on it, and that’s how it all started.”

Happily, the reaction to their music has been extremely positive ever since. “We have received such good feedback and great, great reviews in the major Norwegian newspapers,” Svendsen insists. “Both our debut album, Palomino Motel, and the new record are doing very well with listeners, and I think we will be able to reach a bigger audience as we keep playing and keep making records.”

Proof of that prediction can be found in the fact that this summer the band are slated to perform at every major festival in their native Norway. In addition, on July 13th, the band will perform a acoustic church concert with none other than Emmylou Harris in Breim, Norway.

“There are a lot of festivals here, and so many great bands and artists making really good records,” Svendsen adds. “I am happy to be a part of this growing scene. We do see a lot of young people buying records and going to concerts, many in their early 20s. It’s fun, it really is.”

Part of the reason for that appeal may lie in the fact that Norway has such a strong folk music tradition. “There are rather close ties between Norwegian folk music and American traditional music,” Svendsen points out. “Around 800,000 Norwegians emigrated to America in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and that has created something cultural and musical between us.”

Clearly, the band finds those common bonds in the sound it purveys both live and on record. 

“We use instruments like banjo, dobro, and mandolin in our music, and a lot of acoustic guitars,” Svendsen affirms. “We also recorded a couple of songs very old school, with everybody playing live in the studio, standing around one microphone. We have recorded both our records in a small, analog recording studio in Norway called Memphis Bound Studio. It’s built with Sun Studios in Memphis very much in mind.”

It’s little wonder then that Svendesen feels the pull of a traditional template. 

It’s timeless music,” he muses. “It speaks to our hearts. It’s kind of organic. People have been telling stories in their songs and playing acoustic instruments for a long, long time. At the same time we live in an era where everything changes so fast. I think people need some stability in their lives, something that does not change that much or that fast. Something that’s true and pure…and honest as well.”

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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.