Unorthodox Americana, Via Traditional Norway
With the sounds of a traditional Norwegian fiddle, a viola, a classical guitar and a drum set, the music of QQQ suggests an odd kind of Americana. Geographically, it would probably live somewhere between Oslo, Brooklyn and the hills of Appalachia.
The band is made up of two married couples. Percussionist Jason Treuting and violist Beth Meyers and are husband and wife, as are fiddler Dan Trueman and classical guitarist Monica Mugan.
"[There are] definitely 'wife' moments, where we sort of go off into separate ends of the room, and the guys over there, and the girls go over here," Meyers says. "And then it's like, 'All right guys, let's get back together — rehearsal time again.'"
The band has a new album called Unpacking the Trailer. In between questions from host Liane Hansen, QQQ performed some of their new tunes in NPR's Studio 4A.
The Hardanger Fiddle
Trueman plays the "elaborately decorated" Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele), a traditional Norwegian folk instrument.
"It looks at first like a violin that some child has gotten loose with, with some kind of marker," he says. "But if you look more closely, it actually is very carefully decorated with lots of florid curves and flowers and so on. And also on the center part of it, the fingerboard, there's all this ivory inlay."
A dragon is carved into the head of the fiddle, atop the tuning pegs. "Sometimes they have women at the top, but I think that was the Viking thing — to either have dragons or women at the front of their boats," Trueman says. "And same thing with their fiddles."
Trueman's Hardanger has five "sympathetic" strings — some models have four — which are woven under the four main strings found on a standard violin. The additional strings are not actually bowed, but do resonate along with the main strings.
"It gives the instrument this very warm, ringing quality to it," Trueman says. "Kind of an ethereal quality to it."
Though he didn't start playing the Hardanger fiddle until he was an adult, it's actually a tradition in Trueman's family. His great uncle, though not a player, was a big fan of the instrument. "Uncle Ort" is memorialized in "Orton's Ode," on the album.
"When he found out that I was getting into it he was very excited," Trueman says. "He was one of these guys who was very into the family tree, and really kept a record going all the way back to his relatives in Norway. So he was very excited to see it going on to the next generation."
What's In A (Few) Name(s)?
For the spring solstice, QQQ performed its tune "Spring" — which, according to drummer Treuting, has a few different aliases.
"It is timely to be able to play it now, and for it actually to be able to be called 'Spring,'" Trueting says. "We usually kind of change the title; you know, it's been known as 'Valentine's Day,' it's been known as 'Turkey Day,' it's been known as 'The Dark of Winter' ... We're kind of chameleons, you know? We like to fit in with what's around us."
It turns out that the acronym behind QQQ has gone through a few revisions, too. But Meyers deferred when asked. "I'm not allowed to answer this question," she says. "Dan?"
Trueman offered a few different possibilities. "It means what it means to you," he says.
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