Bluegrass Beyond Borders: Sofia Talvik shares a multi-national mix

It’s hardly surprising that artists of international origin tend to mix their fascination for archival American sounds with those of their native culture.

Sofia Talvik is no exception. While she stays true to her Nordic roots, this Swedish singer/songwriter remains clearly enamored by Americana, bluegrass, and all other forms of folk music expression. With seven albums and numerous EPs to her credit, she’s had ample opportunity to show her prowess in all manners of musical endeavor.

Her past tours in the US — one visit lasted sixteen months and took her through 47 states! — has clearly enhanced her appreciation for those rustic designs, while also allowing her to tap into certain musical traditions. She’s become a nomad of sorts, traveling in her RV from place to place while soaking up the influences that have inspired her ever since the release of her initial album, Blue Moon, in 2005.

She said that America literally opened its doors to her, providing her with their hospitality and, just as significantly, allowing her to share significant stages, including her appearance at the famous Lollapalooza festival in Chicago, where she become the first Swedish artist to make an appearance. 

“I have a lot of different influences when it comes to music,” Talvik insists. “Of course, since I’ve been touring so much in the US during the last ten years, I have come to listen to a lot of American artists. My favorites are Neko Case, Jason Isbel, and Brandi Carlisle. I also really like Mipso, which has a wonderful blend of folk and bluegrass.”

It’s little wonder then that her albums have attracted considerable attention, many of them reaching the upper rungs of the folk/roots charts.

“Music has always been part of my life, but it’s never been my dream to become famous or to become a full time artist,” she muses. “I kept my day job for many years while releasing albums on the side. In 2011, I started my year and a half long tour throughout the US, and I’ve been touring ever since. I tour a lot in Germany, so I have a home base in Berlin, but I also spend some time in Spain. I tour in the US for about four months every year in my little 1989 Winnebago RV.”

In fact, she’s recently initiated yet another four month tour of the States, ensuring her road warrior discipline will remain intact.

While Talvik makes music mostly on her own, she occasionally enlists others to aid in her efforts. “It’s always a question of location and budget if I’m able to bring more musicians on the road,” she explains. “I have my Swedish backing band that’s been with me for nearly 20 years, and I have some great backup musicians in Germany, and a bass player in Alabama. My pedal steel player, Tim from California, used to play with me on tour in the US before, but he passed away in 2020. I have two songs on my upcoming album dedicated to him. When I recorded the new album, I had two amazing folk/bluegrass musicians from North Carolina joining me, so hopefully I’ll be able to have them come and play some shows with me in the future.”

That new album, titled Center of the Universe and due for release next month, brings her even deeper into those archival realms. “The new album includes elements of bluegrass with some awesome mandolin and accordion, all of which is new to me,” she says. Nevertheless, Sofia notes that there are many similarities between bluegrass and the folk music she grew up listening to in Sweden. 

“Many of the bluegrass instruments are also used in Scandinavian traditional music, but the sound is a bit different,” Talvik explains. “I think Scandinavian traditional folk is a bit more melancholy, but we also have dance musical as well of course. I think what makes my music special is that I draw from that heritage, and combine it with my impressions and experiences in the US, which makes it a unique mix.”

The initial single from the album, which is out now, is called Circle of Destruction, and Talvik says it has significant meaning. “I wrote it in the first days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” she recalls. “It’s a song about a longing for peace and acceptance on many more levels. I listened to a podcast on how the refugees from Ukraine were shipped into the US and received so much help, but all the while, there was a another camp with immigrants from Mexico and South American countries down the road that did not receive any help at all. So the song is a prompt to make people stop and think about all of the refugees, all of the immigrants, all the people searching for a better life. If we have compassion and resources, we should use that to help everyone in need, not just a select few.”

That said, Talvik noted that the Ukrainian conflict had a direct impact on her own mindset.

“Living in Berlin, which is only about a twelve hour drive from the Ukraine, made it appear that war was suddenly was on my doorstep in a way I never thought would happen in my lifetime,” she recalls. “It makes you stop to think about what’s important in life.”

That, in a sense, is infused with her feelings about bluegrass and why it affects so many people so positively. 

“It’s because it’s real, it’s down to earth and it’s real people playing real instruments,” she suggests. “There is so much programmed music now, and so I think the sincerity of the genre is what appeals to people. It’s tradition right there.”

For more information about Sofia Talvik, you can visit her online.

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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.