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Norwegian folk duo Darling West performs live at PRE studios, talks latest album

The Norwegian folk duo Darling West is comprised of husband and wife Mari Sandvær Kreken and Tor Egil Kreken. Their music has been described as roots-inspired, indie pop, and “cosmic folk.”

Darling West’s debut album, Winter Passing (2014), earned a nomination for the Spellemannprisen – the Norwegian Grammy of sorts. Tor and Mari won the Spellemannprisen in 2016 with their second album Vinyl and Heartache (2016).

Before the band started, Mari and Tor primarily played traditional American folk songs – Mari on mandolin and Tor on banjo. The band's name comes from the first song they wrote together — “Darling West,” a song inspired by the four directions of the wind (“West wind, west wind / Forgive me for forgetting that your mine / Darling, west wind / Will you stay with me a little longer just this time?).

Their debut album, Winter Passing, was inspired by American western music.

“We tried to do old-timey-inspired music,” Tor said. “Giving a little bit of a tribute to the West.”

Darling West spoke with PRE's Neal Ganaway, host of The Sound, about their album Cosmos released on March 24, as well as their start in Americana music. During their interview, they played three songs live at the PRE studio.


Neal Ganaway: We're here with Darling West. We've got Tor and Mari here. They are the duo that started it all together. My first question has to be where does the name Darling West originate? A lot of people use their names or where they're from. You're from Oslo, Norway, so Darling West doesn't seem easy to figure out where that comes from.

Tor Egil Kreken: Well before we started, we were playing old-timey American music together. I was playing banjo and Mari was playing mandolin. And then at some point we wrote.

Mari Sanvaer Kreken: Tried to.

Tor: Yeah, tried our best. And then at some point we wrote a song just out of the blue. The lyrics that I wrote were about the four directions of the wind.

Neal: Oh, the darling west wind.

Tor: Exactly. When we later wanted to start a band because this was something we wanted to do together. We tried a bunch of names and Darling West was one of them and it kind of stuck on. It also because we're trying to do old-timey inspired music on our first album. So, it was a good way of giving a little bit of tribute to the West because the U.S. is west of us.

Neal: Well, welcome Down East for you folks from Oslo. We do appreciate you stopping in. I understand you came from Asheville yesterday and were at South by Southwest (SXSW) last week. I know that was a good time. I've been able to be out there for that event myself well.

Mari: This time around, it has to be said, that it can be a pretty stressful place to be. It's a lot of fun, but it's a lot of carrying your gear to all the places that you're going to play and then trying to get it back. So, we didn't really get to see that many other shows.

Neal: Well, you’ll have to go just as an observer some time. There’s so much going on there.

Tor: Yeah. Well, you (Mari) got to see Fruit Bats there. He's not a new artist, but that was fun.

Mari: That was really good. Also, I've had some other experiences from other SXSW where I wasn’t as busy as I was this time around, so I could discover great music.

Neal: There's usually a lot there. Speaking of y'all's origins as Darling West, you want to give us a tune from when it all started? Maybe start with “The Sweetest Tune.”

Mari: Yeah, I would love that. And now that we talked about Darling West, it is a song as well, so we should play that one, but we haven't played that one in years. So, we're just going to do this one from our second album that we released in 2016, it's called “The Sweetest Tune.”

The Sweetest Tune - Darling West, live at PRE studios

Neal: Very nice. Very sweet. I don't know how you all describe your music. I think Lucinda Williams is credited with calling you cosmic folk. Is that right?

Mari: We love that phrase. We hadn't heard that before she told us that we were playing “cosmic folk,” and it felt really right because it opens up a lot of the possibilities, I guess.

Neal: Sure. Everybody wants to pigeonhole you somehow or another. That's not always fair. But I always thought. Term cosmic folk was it was kind of interesting. It certainly could mean a lot of different things. To a lot of. Different people, but the music really speaks for itself. It's really beautiful. It's very nice. How did you end up working with Aaron Lee Tasjan.

Mari: Oh yeah, that's a great question actually. I’ll have to think back.

Tor: I think I remember because we did a festival with him in Oslo a few years back, and we were big fans. He was doing well, and another friend of ours, Matthew Logan Vasquez, was also playing, so Aaron was watching him, and we were, too. Afterwards we bumped into him and said we were massive fans and we're looking forward to his show. After both of our shows, he actually said from the stage that he really enjoyed our set, which was such a wonderful thing to say. We talked to him, and he said if you're ever in Nashville, let me know and we'll write a song together.

I, of course, thought that would never happen. So, you know, social media, I reached out when we were in Nashville and he said ‘yeah, come on over.’ We had an idea for a son and showed it to him, and he just helped us so much with that.

Mari: Yeah, it was a really nice experience actually, because it's a little testimony on how you have to be tuned into each other's universes when you write songs together. You have to tr to understand each other because this song idea that we had was about Tor’s Dad and his struggle with the mental health issues, and it’s not like we know Aaron Lee Tasjan deeply, so it was this very sensitive topic to come into a songwriter session with and he just tapped into it so easily and helped us write the lyrics for the bridge and it really felt like it was still about Tor’s dad, but he doesn't know at all.

Neal: It's all part of that human experience we all share, so that I guess that makes that possible, right?

Mari: Yeah, right.

Neal: That's beautiful to be able to work with other artists like that. I know this is not your first trip to the United States, but we're glad to have you this time around. When you're here on this side of the pond, what do you miss most about home?

Mari: I don't feel like we get to be here that long that we starting to miss things from home. What I don't miss is the cold.

Tor: Mostly, we’re excited about being here and the food that we can't get in our way. The weather is usually much better, except sometimes in the Midwest, where it's more like in Norway.

Mari: Yeah, but if I was to mention a little thing that can that I miss after a couple of weeks being here it's the tap water everywhere. You don't have to ask in the reception if you can drink the tap. It's just fresh everywhere.

Neal: That's nice. That is something, you know, that says something about home.

Mari: Yeah, we just love being here. The temperatures, the humidity. It makes my skin look so good. And the food? Yeah. And the people. That's very different from Norway also. There's a lot of nice people in Norway as well, but you have to dig a little deeper to get to the smiles, I guess. But you guys . . . we feel so at home.

Neal: That's great. What do you miss when you get back to Norway? What do you miss about here?

Mari: The temperatures, the humidity. The smiles on people and the food.

Tor: Yeah. Every time we come here, there's just so many wonderful things. This sounds very silly, but I like IPAs, and here I can go to a gas station and find really good IPA's that I would pay five times as much for in Norway.

Neal: That’s something that you really like about being here.

Mari: It’s really cute. He buys them, but then he's not really drinking them. They're just coming with us on tour.

Tor: Collecting.

Neal: Much like instruments. Well, you got a new album called Cosmos, and it's hitting the stores tomorrow, the 24th of March. This will probably air a little after that, but I know that's an exciting time. It’s album number 5. Why don’t we hear “Old Man” from that album.

Mari: This record is a bit different. All our records are different from each other. You develop and get into different kinds of music throughout your career. This is more like indie pop, folk, cosmic.

So, this song that we're playing now has a different flavor on the studio version. There's a piano on there, and there's a beautiful string arrangement by someone called Rob Moose, who's not just someone. He’s a string master that has done Bon Iver, Phoebe Bridgers and Paul Simon and everyone. But we're going to play it here. The way we wrote it because a song is a song. This is the song.

Neal: Fantastic. Thank you.

Old Man - Darling West, live at PRE studios

Neal: I know the pandemic was tough on everyone, but you all seem to find a way to keep yourselves entertained with YouTube and that family Sessions is something you all going to continue, or you want to tell people a little bit about that. You've got on the web there.

Mari: Yeah, that was definitely a pandemic project. We really wanted to stay connected to our fans and our audience across the borders also. Norway opened up a little bit earlier, but we wanted to stay in touch and also not get demotivated and just keep on playing on our instruments every day and week, so we came up with this weekly YouTube project, which we call in the beginning Friday Sessions. We learned ourselves a new song. Someone else's song. So, we did mostly covers. That was also very helpful and interesting towards going into the songwriting of our next record to learn other people's songs.

Neal: Yes, it inspires you and gives you ideas to build upon to do something of your own. Mike Campbell is big on that. You want to write something new, learn somebody else's sound, take it and incorporate it. Before you know it, it's yours in some other way, so I can appreciate that. And, if you're going to play with other people, there has to be some kind of commonality to bring you together. It's not always easy to say “we just could play my song,’ or “we're just going to play your song.” We're going to play from the large repertoire that we all gravitate towards.

Mari: Yeah, that’s right. So, after a while we started to get guests on the show. Then it developed into Family Sessions, which is mostly us bringing in musical family and friends to do music with. It's been such a rewarding and fun projects. We did it a few times live as well in Norway and get to do a Christmas special on Norwegian television based on that concept. So, it's been a wonderful thing that we came up with there. One of the first months in the pandemic, but it's extremely time consuming.

Neal: Oh, I would imagine, yeah.

Mari: So right now, we just have to take a little break, but we'll be back.

Neal: I mean, you don't have all your family with you, right?

Mari: But we did a little thing with Michaela Ann in Nashville that we did, but oh, I forgot we've also done a video for every song on the record, so it's going to be out there as live versions with friends.

Neal: Oh, that's great. It's great to see a project like that take on so many different facets, and grow and become something else all of its own, you know, like your child, you know, raise it up and send it out and see what happens. You know, that's great. Do you feel like breaking into this American market has been a challenge? Do you feel like there's been a lot of roadblocks for you? A lot of people say you got to make it here. Y’all’s English is impeccable. I don't know how your native Norwegians think about going into the English realm and all that kind of stuff, but how? How has it been getting here?

Tor: Well, it's mostly been great because when we come here, different people have a different way of hearing the music because they can relate to the lyrics in a much more direct way. That's been scary, but also very positive and rewarding to have people come up to us and talk about the lyrics. That wouldn't really happen, to be honest, in Norway and Europe. People listen to the lyrics, but they can't really hear them the same way. That's been a great thing. I don't know if we'll ever be able to, but we would like to go on the tour circuit where most bands in our kind of category go on. But just coming here and getting to visit radio stations like this and doing tours every once in a while feels really rewarding. We've been welcomed with very open arms.

Mari: It's been so great. We were a bit worried at first. Someone in a newspaper in Norway said that they're willing to sell sand in Sahara because we’re coming here with the Americana sound. But I think we come from a different place. We have a different flavor to it. We don't have the ambitions of breaking in. We're knocking on the door, very politely.

Neal: How do you define your success for yourself? You know we all have that idea of what would make me feel like I'm a success. For everyone that's a little different. I know Jason Isbell, when one of his reps was talking to me, he asked him “So what do you want out of this?” and he said “I want my own private submarine.” That was what success meant to him. What would success mean to you all?

Mari: This is something that we've been talking a lot about throughout our soon-to-be 10 years as a band. The goals seem to move all the time when you're traveling on this road of the musician. So, the goal is a little different every year. It's important for us to celebrate that we get to make music together. We're a couple and spend a lot of time together and work on our passion together. And write songs that people actually want to hear, which is so great and travel and make a living out of it. So that's a privilege. So that's that goal is already reached, and we have to keep Doing it. Sometimes things come up that, oh, I really want to do that. The Christmas special on television was kind of a or goal reached.

Neal: Well, once you reach one, like you say, it changes and so what's the next thing to reach for or?

Mari: So, Jimmy Fallon.

Neal: I'll make a call.

Mari: Could you?

Neal: I can call. I'm not saying they'll answer, but I can't call. I'll just do what I can do. Well, let's do one more. Let's do Wild Dreams off Cosmos.

Mari: This song is one of the few songs that has banjo on this new record. That's why it's. This is very folky with the African banjo and guitar lick. It's called Wild Dreams.

Wild Dreams - Darling West, live at PRE studios

Neal: Cosmic folk. Right? Darling West, that's who we have here in the studio. Thank you so much. I know you all got to get back on the road. Where you headed next?

Mari: It's going to be a few weeks on the road in Norway, which is very different to being on the road here because they are very narrow and It's hard to get really fast or far in the in the short amount of time. It's going to be great and we're going to bring our two other band members as well.

Neal: And friends. I understand y'all are close, right?

Mari: We are very close. We've been playing together for so long in different artist projects as well because we've been doing some freelancing, all of us and then we just came together as a family. By now we are we are very close, and they've been experiencing a lot of things together. I love that Avett Brothers documentary where if one band member suffers, you suffer with them. We've been through a couple of rough things and that just brings you closer together, which is such a lovely thing to experience.

Neal: Thank you so much for spending some time and getting by here and we want to wish you all very safe travels and look forward to the next time you're back over the pond and you get an opportunity to stop by. We'd really love to have you.

Mari: Thank you so much. It was our pleasure.

Born in Jacksonville, FL, the youngest of four to a Navy Chaplain and an elementary school teacher, Neal Ganaway followed his family around the world as a military dependant. He moved from Mississippi to Rhode Island and Japan to Germany. Neal graduated high school from Havelock High and holds a degree in Radio, TV, and Motion Picture Broadcasting from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. He worked in commercial radio for over 10 years. Neal currently works in sales and quality control for a locally owned and operated ready mix concrete company. He enjoys all kinds of music and welcomes the opportunity to share his appreciation for it on The Sound.