Swedish singer-songwriter captures 37 states in music and imagery

SOUNDS FAMILIAR: Though Sofia Talvik has been compared to Joni Mitchell, she only started listening to the Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter after a review noted the similarity. Growing up in Sweden, Talvik listened to ‘60s-era artists like The Doors and Janis Joplin and plenty of Brit-pop.
SOUNDS FAMILIAR: Though Sofia Talvik has been compared to Joni Mitchell, she only started listening to the Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter after a review noted the similarity. Growing up in Sweden, Talvik listened to ‘60s-era artists like The Doors and Janis Joplin and plenty of Brit-pop. Photo by Jonas Westin

If you want great Americana music, listen to a Swedish artist. Not that there aren’t talented Americana musicians in the U.S. (there are) or that all Swedish singer-songwriters are inspired by American folk and roots (they aren’t). But sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg of First Aid Kit, and Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man on Earth, loom large on current Americana playlists.

Musician Sofia Talvik, another Swede, has a theory. “As Europeans, we come to America and see it with fresh eyes. [We] have a little bit more romantic view of the U.S.,” she says. “When you come from Europe, you get the best of the U.S.” In 2011, Talvik had the quintessential American experience: She spent 1 1/2 years traveling the country in an RV for her Drivin’ & Dreaming tour. Songs written during and after that excursion led to her recent release, Big Sky Country. In support of the album, Talvic performs an early (6 p.m.) show at Jack of the Wood Friday, Sept. 25. (She also plays the Buffalo Valley Music Festival in Unicoi, Tenn., the next day, for those inspired to take a road trip.)

The title song from Talvik’s new record starts with the line, “I’ve seen the Blue Ridge Mountains rise tall” before name-checking dozens of other places and experiences from her travels: California sand, Texas oil fields, the open vistas of Idaho. “I wrote this song with my love behind the wheel, but no matter how I sing it, it won’t tell you how I feel,” she sings. Talvik and her husband, Jonas Westin — a videographer who quit his day job in TV for the trip — saw 37 states. Footage of the journey, filmed and edited by Westin, is featured in Talvik’s music videos.

The singer-songwriter also released a book, Drivin’ & Dreaming: One Artist’s Odyssey through America, mainly as a way to share road stories and photos with her fans. “It’s also a lot of recipes,” she says. “I love to cook and I was cooking every day in the RV so we didn’t have to go to McDonald’s or Taco Bell.” But as forthcoming as Talvik is in her art — and also on social media — she’s tight-lipped when it comes to talking about the ideas behind her songs.

“Sometimes someone comes up to [me] after a show and tells [me] how they interpreted the song,” she says. “That’s always really interesting and can also color what [I] feel about the song or what [I] think about when I sing it.”

She continues, “The best thing is when you listen to a song and think, ‘Wow, this was really written about me’ … and you connect to that song, and you love it because of that.” If you later read an interview with the artist who says that particular song was actually just about taking out the trash, it’ll ruin your experience, Talvik says. She does her best to keep her listeners’ personal impressions intact.

As for crafting her songs, Talvik says she takes a number of different approaches. “Most of the time, it’s so many different impressions that I piece together,” she says. “Every now and then, I’ll write it more like a short story.”

When Talvik was a child, she imagined becoming an author but found it easier to focus on the shorter form of lyrics. “With the music and melody, you can add so many feelings that you can’t really put into words,” she says. “It fits my lifestyle better.”

WHO: Sofia Talvik
WHERE: Jack of the Wood, jackofthewood.com
WHEN: Friday, Sept. 25, 6 p.m. Free

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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