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root salad My Bubba


The Swedish/Icelandic duo are conquering the world. Good work, says Chris Nickson


A


Swede and an Icelander meet in Denmark. There’s no punchline. It’s simply how the two members of My Bubba met. My Larsdotter was living in Copenhagen. Guðbjörg Tómasdóttir – Bubba – was over from Ice- land and needed a place to live. They shared a flat and a band was born.


“Bubba heard me singing to myself and asked me to do a harmony on a song of hers,” Larsdotter recalls. “I’d never sung with anyone before. From the start, she’d play, I’d sing, and our voices would find each other.”


Before Bubba moved back to Iceland, the pair decided to play some open mic night in a bar, to give their songs an airing. “An Italian who was cycling past stopped to listen. He invited us to go to Italy and play in his cafe. Before we could even decide, a promoter friend of his emailed and offered us an Italian tour. Bubba came back to Den- mark two weeks before we had to go and we wrote some songs. When we got to Italy, we found that the promoter had a tiny indie label. He released our first record, How It’s Done in Italy.”


That was in 2010. But curious syn- chronicity has been the way My Bubba’s career has progressed.


“For five years things were like that, they just seemed to happen,” Larsdotter explains. “We were in it for the adventure and the fun. But it slowly took on its own life and became more serious.”


Everything about My Bubba has seemed to come together organically. Born in Sweden, Larsdotter spent much of her childhood in the US, where her father was a railway engineer.


“I grew up listening to old American music, country, rock ’n’ roll, folk, blue- grass,” she explains. “Bubba is from Ice- land but spent ten years of her childhood in Sweden, so she heard Swedish folk songs and jazz. Our songs are a blend of those things.”


If you detect a train rhythm in some of their pieces, don’t be surprised. Larsdotter spent three years as a train driver in Swe- den, taking time off to tour (“I wrote a lot of songs when I was driving, it’s a place to be inspired”).


There’s definitely a strong strain of Americana in their compositions (both now live in America, Larsdotter on the East Coast, Bubba on the West), but with a twist that sets it well apart from the crowd. That’s nowhere more evident than on the Sing Swedish Songs album.


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“W


e’d talked about doing it, and we went deeper with these songs, recording in a big house


in the woods in the area where these songs come from. Originally people would have sung them at home, and that’s how we wanted to present them, intimately. We came up with arrangements, but we didn’t try to make them complicated.”


That intimacy, the organic harmony of the voices and the songs is one of the things that makes My Bubba so appealing. In a way it’s almost childlike, so open, as if it’s being made up on the spot. Just two voices, guitar and cittra (Norwegian lap harp) on a few songs. Even the choreographed body percussion that accompanies Dogs Laying Around Playing.


“We’d been touring for a couple of years and we were in Scandinavia for the winter, longing for warmer places,” Larsdot- ter explains. “We started looking at the his- tory of folk music all over, imagining differ- ent climates. I’d already written the lyrics and I thought it would be fun to do a rou- tine like girls playing on the street. We found some videos of Samoan clap dancing routines and that was the inspiration. We usually play it as our first song live. It gets attention, and after that we can play quiet- ly and they listen.”


Naturally unusual is perhaps the best way to describe My Bubba. For their last album, Big Bad Good, they deliberately entered the studio with no material written.


“We’d taken too much time on the record before, we were burnt out on that. We already knew producer Shahzad Ismaily. He was building a studio and wanted us to record. I had some notes and fragments, Bubba had a couple of little guitar things. It wrote itself. The vocals are mostly first takes. I’d improvise and we’d do overdubs, layer over later on the title track. It was a cathartic experience. I really like the record. We wanted to capture the raw quality of a new song. I think they keep that quality even when we tour because of the way we recorded them.”


And touring has been their life for the last couple of years, focusing on America, Australia, and Japan, performing their own songs and an interesting line in covers, from a sweetly sensual acoustic version of Sexual Healing to Dylan’s You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (“one of the first things we ever sang together”).


And now the two of them are spend- ing time on opposite coasts, although they’ve really only ever come together to record or tour. “We’re taking down time,” Larsdotter says. “We’ve talked about a new album, we want to make another album, but we’ll see when we’re inspired.” No big career arc, no huge urge to build on their success. Instead, they’re quite happy to take things as they come. “Maybe it’s best to go back to the beginning.”


Sometimes you really can find natural magic. ohmybubba.com F


Photo: Pierre Eriksson


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