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December 2022

 Photography by: Samuel Hanson

Sofia Talvik

By: Zeke Hanson

When I first started working in production, I had an internship with a small show that would go on to run for over twenty years. The host of that show was known for saying, “never waste a microphone.”

This brings us to Sofia Talvik.  We were able to catch up with her in a Minneapolis park on her way to a music festival in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan.  

She is a solo artist performing under her own name, as well as in a duo known as Hansan. And while this Hansan doesn’t play much “MMMBop”, they do still have to compete with some Umpa Umpa music when they play through Germany.  

“It’s a duo project with a German guy (David Floer), who plays the cello.”  Talvik continues, “we call ourselves, Hansan, which is the Swedish word for the Hansiatic Trade Union that was between Germany and Sweden back in the 1700s, we are looking at ourselves as the modern version of that, because I’m from Sweden and he’s from Germany.  He’s like this really amazing cello player.  It was his idea that we would write an album together and the songs would be all in Swedish.  The style of the music, I would say, is more traditional Swedish Folk, mixed with a little bit of Jazz, and it has some pop and classical music baked into it.  It’s like a very eclectic mix of everything, but it’s just cello and voice, so it has a very specific sound.  So, usually when I play live, I sing maybe one or two songs in Swedish, but just a capella, because I can’t play the cello and there’s no guitar on the album, so I haven’t bothered learning to play it on the guitar.”  

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They have been playing together for roughly eight years, but for Sofia it has always been a side project.  

“He’s got a family and two small children, so he can’t really be on the road much, so it’s not something that we tour with.  It’s more like a project that we love to do but it’s just for our own sense of fun.”

For Talvik, she has been touring the United States steadily for over a decade, and her music has taken her to, as of this article, all but three states.

 

“I have not been to Alaska;” Sofia reflects as she counts off the states, “I have not been to North Dakota and West Virginia.”  

Music was always a part of what she had hoped for, and doing what she loves has given her a chance to see the whole world. 

“I started playing the piano when I was a small child,” she laughs, “I was mainly playing classical piano for many years, in school and stuff.  After a while I got tired of that, and I wished for a guitar for my 18th birthday, and I got one.  Didn’t know how to play it, so I started writing songs to teach myself how to play.  Never really occurred to me that I could actually play covers or anything.  I have this little book of chords, and I started writing songs based on those chords that I figured out from the book.  Touring has been full time since 2011.”

Saying that Sofia has taken the road less traveled to fulfill her dreams doesn’t do it justice.  Because, she’s traveled all of the roads, and then doubled back on them again.

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“For me, I always loved traveling.  Even before I started touring, I did a lot of travels with my husband [Jonas], we went to Asia multiple times, stuff like that, so it’s always been something that I enjoy doing.  When I did the first long tour here in the U.S., we had an artist visa for two years, and we came here and we bought an old RV, and just wanted to try it out and see what happened.  We liked it and we continued touring, and I think the key for me is actually that I’m touring in the RV.  If I have a day off, I don’t have to worry about hotels and the budget, so I can go camping.  I usually plan my tours around scenic places, like Yellowstone National Park or Southern Utah, or places I can go and see beautiful surroundings.  That’s a big part of touring for me.  When we came here the first time, we had this huge camper, it was like 29 feet long, but then we were on the road for a year and a half, nonstop, so we kind of needed that space.  Now we have this little one, it’s a Winnebago MicroWarrior from 1989, that we call Little Chief.  Little Chief sort of has his own personality, so people that follow me on Facebook, they know him as a member of the band almost.  We got him in 2015, and we leave him at friends’ houses when we’re not here, and where the last tour ends, we start the next tour, so it kind of rotates around America.”

The European and other national tours are a little bit different, simply due to space, “I do tour a lot in Europe, and in Europe I don’t have a camper,I just have a normal car.  So I have to rely on hotels.  So, usually, I’m not out weeks on end touring, I live in Berlin Germany now, so that’s kind of a good center location for touring in Europe.  I do a lot of shows in Germany.  Usually I go out like maybe Thursday to Sunday and play shows, and then I come back and do laundry and then I repeat next week.  It’s very different in the sense that I don’t really have the travel aspect in Europe the same way that I do here.  If I play in Europe it’s, maybe I come a little bit early to town and I can walk around for a bit, but I don’t do any camping or anything like that.”

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In fact, the per capita tour led them to a more permanent move, “Up ‘til we did that first long tour, which started late 2011, we lived in Sweden.”  Talvik explains, “Then when we had been here, on the road, for a year and a half, we felt like we wanted to keep doing this, but also be closer to home.  So, we wanted to keep touring in Europe, and then we were looking at different places because Sweden is so far north, it’s not a great country to tour in.  It’s a big country, but not a lot of people, 10 million people, but it’s the size of California, so it’s actually a really big country.  Berlin seemed like a good choice, it’s actually still one of the most affordable capitols in Europe, so it’s a great place for a starving artist.  It’s much cheaper over there, than here.  I was recently outraged when I went to the store and bought some lettuce, and I was like, holy crap, three bucks for a piece of lettuce, what is this?”

The open road can have its own rhythm and rhyme.  Every bump in the road, the motor and the wind.  There is very little quiet, even less so when you are lining up your own shows.

“I would never listen to my own music.”  Sofia laughs again, “ I don’t know, I’m very uncomfortable listening to my own music.  It’s a lot of podcasts, not a lot of music, sometimes music if you don’t want to focus on something.  But, listen a lot to This American Life, Planet Money, Car Talk, stuff like that, Serial, a lot of NPR shows, cuz it’s really good quality.  Also, when you tour in the RV, it’s not like a brand new car, so if you turned on the stereo and listened to something, it’s quite loud in there, so it really has to be a good recording.  Sometimes I will try to listen to a new podcast, and it will just be someone who recorded it in their bedroom and then I can’t understand  it, it has to be  really well produced, so that’s why I mainly stick to the NPR ones.”

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Even if the road doesn’t trigger any inspiration, and the price of American groceries don’t stall the tour out, sometimes the themes of your work just reach out to you.  Sometimes you just can’t shake those lingering impressions from your travels, no matter how far down the road you move.

“Usually, it’s something that catches your imagination, your inspiration,” she elaborates on her latest song The Center of the Universe, which originally started writing itself after she saw a wall of missing persons passing through the exit after shopping for groceries. 

“It’ s kind of a two-part song, and I mean, just like this wall of missing children that they have at Walmart, I’ve never seen anything like that in Europe.  It’s not something that you can see in a grocery store. For me it was something that was kind of moving, and sad, when I’ve seen this wall, and I still will walk up to those walls and look at those pictures.  And I just feel like most people probably don’t, because it is very uncomfortable.  And then it was tied into this other story that we were touring through southern Utah, and we came to a really amazing valley.  It was beautiful.   There was this huge mountain side filled with petroglyphs, apparently there were remnants from this Hopi tribe that lived there for thousands of years.  They did agriculture and different things that you could see remnants of, but no one knows where this Hopi tribe went, they just disappeared.  And there’s so many different theories about this, but I thought it was so cool, because they had this little plaque that talked about the mythology and said that the other Hopi tribes in the area didn’t disappear, but they may have gone to the center of the universe, which would be their higher state of being.  That kind of tied into those missing children, you know, sort of wish for a better outcome for the children.  When I write songs, it’s quite often that it’s a mish-mash of many different things that I see or hear and I kind of interpret into one story.  I don’t have much time to write when I’m on the road.  Unfortunately, it’s a lot of driving and playing and then the days that I need to do promotion and book other shows, so, not a lot of time to write.  But the impressions stay with me so I can always pick them up later on.”

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Her solo genre is Nordic Folk, branded as Americana with Swedish Roots.

“Swedish traditional folk is, if you listened to it, you would think it sounded more Irish probably.  And of course, it’s in Swedish, so the language makes a difference too.  How it sounds and what you use, the kind of melodies you use, because of the language [it] will change as well.” Sofia says, “if we are talking about contemporary folk, that’s basically what I play now, and I mean ever since the 60’s with Joni Mitchell and Buffy Sainte-Marie, and all that stuff, that’s been in Europe a big genre too, but completely different from the traditional stuff.  I mean, here, I guess you could say the Bluegrass is more a traditional folk genre here.  In Germany it’s a lot of Umpa Umpa,” Talvik laughs, “I don’t have a TV at home, so when I tour in Germany and I come to a hotel room after a show, I always turn on the TV, there’s always one channel that has the Umpa Umpa music with people in lederhosen and accordions.  It’s so funny to watch that.”

Sofia Talvik brings it home on her own.

“I think also, as a musician artist, it’s kind of your duty to do some sort of debate, or say something, take a stand for something.  If you just sing songs about “hey I love you so much,” that’s kind of boring.  So, I think, I really think, people, if you have a voice, you should use it.  That’s what you want.  You want people to react to what you’re doing.  Of course, it’s always nicer if they react in a good way, but you know, any reaction is good in a way.”

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One last thing.

If you were on the Titanic and were going to play the last song as the ship was sinking, what would you play?

“Oh gosh, that’s so hard, hmm, I mean, the first thing that comes to mind is Witchita Lineman by Glenn Campbell, I don’t know why.  It doesn’t have anything to do with the Titanic, or rescue, or goodbye or dying, but it’s just what comes to mind.  It’s a beautiful song.”

Try to keep up with all that Sofia is doing by following her on socials and keeping tabs on her tour dates and the stories of Little Chief.

She’s out there, running circles around us, never wasting a microphone. 

sofiatalvik.com

@sofiatalvikmusic

@sofiatalvik

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