Estonian string quartet Curly Strings draws its inspiration from American bluegrass music. Mandolin player Villu Talsi recalls their rise to stardom within a very short time.
Eeva Talsi – fiddle, lead vocals Villu Talsi – mandolin, vocals Jaan Jaago – guitar, vocals Taavet Niller – upright bass, vocals
Your music is a blend of American string band music with Estonian lyrics? How did you get that particular idea?
Villu Talsi: Well, me as a mandolin player, I have always listened to some great American mandolin masters, like Bill Monroe, David Grisman, later on Chris Thile, Mike Marshall and so on. And during our studies at Viljandi Cultural Academy we found out, that we all share the same secret passion for bluegrass, especially more modern stuff, like Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers. So we thought, it would be fun to play some of that american stuff and from the first session we had together there was something special in it.
Couple of months later Eeva came with this song that she had written and we arranged it and got Estonian lyrics for it. It worked well and people loved it a lot, so we kept on going until we got really hot here in Estonia. We have thought about singing in English (we even did “Sittin On Top Of The World” and “Can’t You Hear Me Callin”), but it didn’t have the same depth and quality as singin in our mother language.
You were all students at Viljandi!?
We all have studied at Viljandi Cultural Academy of Tartu University, some of us studied jazz, others folk music. Viljandi is the center of folk music in Estonia, where a lot of folk and jazz artists are emerging from. That’s where we met and started playing together. Eeva has been playing classical violin also her whole childhood, but when she discovered folk fiddle, she was sold.
What is your musical philosophy?
We draw inspiration from anything we can, from Estonian traditions, Nordic folk music, Polish, folk music, American Bluegrass, Pop, Classical and so on. I think we inspire each other as musicians a lot. The philosophy is to make sincere music with good melodies and details to it, that would touch people and really mean something for them, to offer something positive.
I suppose that the average FolkWorld reader doesn't understand the Estonian language. So what are the songs about?
The power of singing; a memory of a far away village, where I used to spend my summers with my grandparents; growing up; friendship; love; alcohol problems. Just some themes the songs are about.
What do you think about the Estonian music scene at the time being?
Folk music is doing well these days in Estonia. I like to mention Maarja Nuut, Trad.Attack!, Lepaseree, Puuluup, Ülemakstud rentslihärrad, ... We came hot into our music scene, we won four awards in Estonian Music Awards 2015 including Best Album, Best Band, Best Newcomer and Best Song. Our album “Üle ilma” is one of the most sold albums in Estonia.
Curly Strings have already toured Western Europe. A particular highlight must have been the European World of Bluegrass festival…?
We haven’t been playing much at Western Europe actually, but yes participating in EWOB was a very nice and warm experience. You could tell, that most of the people know each other over there and they welcomed us very warmly, we were taken to their community and as a big surprise we won the European Bluegrass Band #1 Prize and Liz Meyer Special Prize. It was a overwhelming wave of positive energy.
Is there any chance to see you again?
Well, Folk Alliance International is done now and hopefully we’ll be making a visit to North America soon, but there are no certain dates yet. Right now we are working on our new album, which will be released this year in autumn. Folk Alliance was really cool by the way. We met some nice people and got a lot of inspiration. People really liked our music there, though they didn’t understand a word. But that’s how it is with music, it translates in sounds and presence very well. There are a lot of people in the world enjoying music with english lyrics without understanding any of it.
Photo Credits: (1)-(3) Curly Strings (unknown/website).