“You Draw Influence From Many Things”

SEINAJOKI, FINLAND—I got a bit tired of the nonsensical headbashing music of Slayer,  so along with two of the four friends I had travelled with to Finland’s Provinssrock Festival, we decided to wander away from the main stage in search of something more our speed and style. There were several well-known international acts—including Snow Patrol and Modestep—but the festival was also showcasing Finnish acts and bands from neighboring countries that were up and coming. We decided to go to the Rumba stage to check out a band none of us had heard of but we totally loved the name—Ewert and the Two Dragons. I had a general feeling that their music would be not the headbanging noise of heavy metal that was ripping through the Finnish pines, but more ethereal and dance-y. And I was right.

We got to the covered stage and instantly started dancing to the upbeat and fun sounds of one of Estonian’s best loved new bands. Their music is hard to describe—almost like if Mumford and Sons, Crowded House and Noah and the Whale all collaborated on a baby—but it’s immediately catchy and really just drawn down,  with no pretensions but loads of percussions. The band, which includes lead singer Ewert Sundja, guitarist Erki Parnoja, drummer Kristjan Kallas and bass player Ivo Etti, started to play together back in 2008 and in 2010 they signed with Latvian indie label I Love You Records. In April 2011 the band released “Good Man Down”, which received critical acclaim in their home country as well as in Latvia, France, Sweden and Finland. The band went on to win five Estonian Music Awards earlier this year, including Best Band and Album of the Year. The band has a busy summer lineup, playing across Europe in places like Sweden, Austria, Poland, Germany, France and the UK.  I have decided that they are my new favorite band of the summer, so therefore had to interview them. I got Ewert Sundja, who just turned 29 years old,  on the phone right after a band photo shoot to ask him a bit more about the coolest band from Estonia.

 

I loved the show the other night. How would you describe the vibe?

I think we had a good crowd. We are just starting to break in Finland so this summer we have quite a few festivals there but I think the crowd is steadily growing. All in all, I think it went well. We had different setbacks during the day. We flew from Stockholm in the morning and most of our gear got stuck in Sweden so we had quite a stressful morning. [laughs] But I think things turned out really nicely.

 

Wait, your equipment did not make it?

We were fortunate to borrow some of our missing equipment from another artists, a few guitars and drum stuff. There were lots of phone calls in the morning.

 

So I read that you got the name for your band from a film?

It is not that interesting of a story, really. We have to say something, because people start to ask. [laughs] It was not the name of a movie but there was a scene where dragons were mentioned, where a character said,  “I need two dragons.” During the recording sessions, my wife said, “Call yourselves Ewert and the Two Dragons.” And so I said, fine, alright. It’s a good working title. And I told the guys but as it turned out in the end, they did not get the joke. So they actually thought I was serious about it as a name. By that time, I had grown found of the name and then we decided there was no reason to change it, to come up with something better, because none of us could. It started as a joke.

 

ewert-meHow did you guys get together as a band?

Some of us knew each other for a long time and at some point, we all had been at the same music school. None of us were there at the same time but Estonia is so small and Tallinn is even smaller so if you do music in one genre, you will meet the right people, the people you are supposed to meet, anyway. During the school years, we had different projects, we played in and had collaborations and then at some point, we started to think it would be cool to work and produce for other people. And then we thought “let’s do it again” but we could not find anyone to do that for. So accidentally  we thought, “Why shouldn’t we do it for ourselves?”  And then we tried and it has worked out pretty well.

 

Estonia has a very strong tradition of choral music—in fact Estonia’s move for independence from the Soviet Union was called the Singing Revolution. But Estonian pop and rock music are not so well known outside of the Baltic States. Are you guys maybe helping to change that?

I would sure like to hope so. The truth is, there are a lot of cool bands in Estonia but we have been struggling as to how present [music] outside our boundaries. It has been really difficult to meet the right people and the music industry in Estonia is doing baby steps. We only have a few proper mangers that know and have the wish to make something happen. There was a major gap during the Soviet time, we did not hear or get any experience of how to go outside of the country with our music. So I think it is really nice that somehow some kind of movement has started. And I believe we can be a little help, [like] if someone finds we are from Estonia,  maybe will they will start to check other Estonian music out.

 

You have had really good success over the past year in Estonia—now you are touring outside of the country to places like London and Hamburg, where you have presumably not played before. Was there always a master plan to get big outside of your region?

Obviously there were some ambitions like that but originally, it was not. All we ever wanted to do was to play our music. But you kind of run out of places to play if you only play in Estonia. So trying to reach out to people who live outside of Estonia is what we want to do.

 

And your musical influences?

There are four of us so it’s a bit difficult to generalize, I am sure we had some similar favorites. But when we grew up, we were pretty locked out from the rest of the world. And we could not hear any popular music from the 1980s from the radio because it was just not allowed.  Sometimes popular music was smuggled in on an LP and family and friends, they would tape it and listen to their tape recorders;  it was a weird time. Maybe because of that, one of the biggest influence is the Beatles. We listened to them and Rolling Stones. I listened to a lot of Queen, then I had a period of Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder and Motown-ish music. But nowadays, it is so different, we all like Radiohead, Oasis and St. Vincent is really cool. So you draw your influences from many different things, not only just music.

 

It’s probably an obvious answer but why sing in English?

We have two choices, it’s either Estonian or English. I think the reason is that we grew up with English music and it felt so natural when we started writing in English. And then the obvious reason, I think it would be really difficult to sing in Estonian. But that was never an option, it was never a proper decision, like we did not have a band meeting and say “In which language are we going to sing?” We all wrote in English anyway.

 

What has been most surprising about shows that you have played outside of Estonia? Are the crowds different?

We were really surprised when we saw a mature crowd in France, people in their 40s and 50s. That was really positive  because they have a really proper musical education. They listen to all the best, the real bands. So it is nice they are there and they want to talk about the show and what kind of emotions they have from our songs. In Provinssrock it was more teenage girls, obviously that is good too. But the range is really wide, which I think it is a good thing.

 

First photo courtesy of Ewert and The Two Dragons, Second photo is Ginanne Brownell’s from Provinssrock show

1 reply
  1. Silvia
    Silvia says:

    Being one of your two friends who listened to them at Provinssirock, I just would like to confirm how much we enjoyed Ewert and the Two Dragons’ music – and the band’s name too!

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