Wolfhoppers create a thoroughly Norwegian album -- 331 Club release show Saturday
Preceding the album release at the 331 Club, Gimme Noise sat down with the chief composer to talk about the stories behind Cliffs, Caves & The Fjørd Side.
Dave Afdahl - vocals, piano, percussion
Tim Binger - cello, accordion
Pat Dougherty - guitar, banjo
Joe Finstrom - electric, upright bass
Andy Myers - drums, percussion
Gimme Noise: What's the story behind the name Wolfhoppers?
Dave Afdahl: [wʊlf-ˈhɒpərs] n. 1. very large mythical beasts found in Norway; dwell in caves and hunt in packs at night for salmon and vultures; 2. An orchestral rock band from Minneapolis, MN.
The name "Wolfhoppers" actually comes from my oldest nephew, Erik, who invented this mythical creature. He used to tell stories about what they would eat (like salmon, vultures, and eggplants), and who was allowed to pretend to be one. I could pretend sometimes. When we were searching for a good name to call ourselves, I couldn't get that out of my head, and it seemed to fit our music perfectly.
The new album was recorded in various locations around the Twin Cities. Can you name a few places and how they influenced the songs? Did the pieces evolve differently in the different locations?
When I listen to the album, I don't only hear the sounds we created, but I see the people and places we worked with. When the choir sings, I think of some of my closest friends crammed in a dingy studio in the West Bank. When the banjo and accordion are heard, I think of recording in the band's old house in South Minneapolis where we would rehearse. When the piano is played, I think of Sateren Auditorium and the beautiful Steinway piano that filled up the whole room with noise. There is a story to each location where we recorded that greatly affects how I listen to the music, and I hope that comes across when others listen too.
You say that the new album showcases rich thematic elements and organic instrumentation. How did each member contribute to these sounds?
The organic instrumentation we described originates from my love of classical music, and even though this is not classical music, I tried to incorporate many elements of the orchestra. For example, there are many string and choir parts throughout the album and a wide variety of percussion instruments found in a large symphony orchestra. As classically trained musicians, it seemed easy for each member of the band to express their creativity in this realm.
What was the story you wanted to tell with Cliffs, Caves & The Fjørd Side?
At its core, I wanted to tell many stories from my personal life as well as a few stories based on places or ideas that are meaningful to me. Three songs on the album were written for my sister Martha and are in a three-part series scattered throughout the album.
"Soul to Mephistopheles" is roughly based on German folklore. It's about a man who sold his soul, only to steal it back, but there's an eerie end to the piece.
"My Country Ground" carries the main theme in the album. It is about my family's farm in Voss, Norway and about how I long to live there. I describe the home "min bestefar" (my grandpa) built and the sheep that reside there. The album art is a picture of that Afdahl farm. It's a recent photograph, but the farm has practically been unchanged for centuries. Sadly, I have not been there yet, but I've always had a connection to it, and this album has helped me articulate that special connection between that farm and me.
"If I Wake Before I Die" incorporates a story I wrote of a man who is fleeing his past but falls asleep at the wheel. This came to me when I saw Mahatma Ghandi's grandson, Arun, speak. The song title is a direct quote from him. He said, "One should not say, 'If I die before I wake...' because then it would be too late to change anything."
"The Devil on the Bridge" is a true story of a suicide I witnessed on the U of M bridge a few years ago. It's morbid, I know, but it was a way for me to express my thoughts and feelings through music. I remember how sick I felt watching the event and how strange it was that I couldn't leave.
Perhaps the most significant element is the story of our lost friend, Katie Wiltgen, who passed away over two years ago. Her favorite song of ours was "Purpose, Pt. I." I hadn't written "Pt. II" yet, but always planned on it. After her death, it seemed unfair that her favorite song was such a downer, so I changed everything to be in a major key and wrote the lyrics for her. The last sounds in the album represent her voice, which we will miss forever.