Just back from Scandinavian tour supporting new old-Nashville album, DANGEROUS MEs & POISONOUS YOUs with a ragtag crew of acoustic all-stars, Caleb Klauder (Colobo, Foghorn Stringband, self-titled—and Bobby Flay approved—bluegrass project) sat down with bassist Jesse Emerson (formerly Decemberists and Flatirons; currently Amelia and From Words To Blows) to share snapshots and wax nostalgic about Swedish nurses, curried herring, and American country music played for Greenlandian squatters.
Caleb: Foghorn had been playing Denmark, and we went to a big festival there where we met this booking agent. He wanted us to do another tour, but Foghorn wasn't doing that anymore – not breaking up, just not touring. I'd already given the manager my new CD, and, out of the blue, he asks if there's a Caleb Klauder country band. Which there kinda was.
Jesse: We'd played, like, once.
C: I didn't think everyone I wanted could go, but somehow the schedules worked out. Betse Ellis, the fiddle player, couldn't, but we had the core band from the album. Ned Folkerth - amazing drummer. Paul Brainard playing steel guitar, electric guitar, dobro. Jesse Emerson playing upright bass. Sammy Lind from Foghorn on guitar and fiddle; me playing mandolin and guitar.
[Photo: Jesse Emerson, Steven "Sammy" Lind, Ned Folkerth, Caleb Klauder, Paul Brainard; noble in reason, infinite in faculty; Castle Helsingør]
C: We all flew in differently. Jesse was almost stranded at the airport.
J: None of my cards would work. Technical difficulties. Thought I was going to have to walk to the hotel.
C: Caleb and Sammy were already there. Paul was the only one really jet-lagged.
J: He was pretty funny, especially after the booze started to flow and he saw the underwater gardens in the canal. There were these statues submerged.
C: He was terrified.
J: Wouldn't look on the way back.
C: First night…we were playing some weird-ass town near Copenhagen?
J: Lots of o's with lines through them. A's with zeroes above them. Town names were difficult.
C: Brøndby Park! That was a cool show. People were actually singing the lyrics of the song.
J: Older folks, kinda felt like a supper club. Slightly sterile atmosphere, but they seemed to have fun.
C: Everyone was wearing cowboy boots! There was definitely a theme going on – folks going out to a country show
J: And that's Woodstock's. Otherwise known as the end of the world.
C: Literally. In every way. For fucking real. Open til seven in the morning?
J: I didn't see it closed.
C: We're kicking off their thirtieth birthday party at midnight. The most notorious all-night bar in the most notorious squatter commune in Copenhagen…
J: So, obviously, they wanted a northwest country band.
C: My first experience, two years before, we went in around ten at night, couple people sleeping on the floor under the picnic tables, everyone else dancing to Marley while smoking tons of hash – mostly Greenlanders. You know the Country Fair? It's like that but all the time. The crowd was fucking wasted. We had to put up barriers.
J: People kept falling into Paul's steel guitar—you can see a bit of that on the video.
C: People were wasted—WASTED!—falling down at the bar at nine, ten in the morning.
J: This was after the last night's show with polite Danes sitting in the crowd, clapping nicely.
C: We only had a thrown-together drum kit. Jesse was playing this trashy turquoise green bass with Tasmanian Devil decal and a square cut out of the bottom of it.
J: What you might call a hooptie.
C: You know how most basses have a little scroll on the top of the headstock? This one, instead of the scroll, it just had a hole – so you could actually take the bass and hang it on a hook.
C: It was the kinda situation where a semi-acoustic country band should've had the worst gig ever, but people started getting excited as soon as we started setting up. There were young people, there were old people, wasted people, sober people.
J: There were sober people?
C: The ones who'd just come in. They had surround-sound—speakers in four places hanging from the ceiling – and the music was top-notch even though we couldn't hear shit from the stage.
J: It was more like a roadhouse. There could've been a fight any second, and the type of music that we play would've fit right in sixty years ago.
C: Outside was this old military base from the mid-1800s taken over by squatters – hash dealers all around, burn barrels full of wood.
J: But still mellow. All these people are Danish, you know – they don't seem like hippies. They're not talking about unicorns and shit.
C: Definitely no hippie vibe. Commune living but it was more on the verge of anarchy.
J: More gutterpunk.
C: We were in downtown Christiania so it was like the city-center. Around the edges, there's people riding horses, doing yoga, definitely another aspect. For people who grew up there, they've been around for so long that the choice is either extreme anarchy or a sober experience – clean, serious about their work, family, community meetings. It's a beautiful little island.
C: Here it is! From the first night, Jesse hanging out with two ladies. Who the fuck are they? How'd you meet up with them? You know more about it than I do.
J: I don't know that much about it.
C: One of them was trouble. I was kind of scared and stayed away. Think I was outside smoking too much hash.
J: We went back to Woodstock the next week, and I declined Reggae night in Nørrebro. Needed to take the night off. Sort of regretted. I was spending the -
J: Nørrebro. Where we got the bass?
C: Lots of towns in Denmark end with bro.
J: Bros before hos.
J: Next night: we had the van, played somewhere's a few miles out of town, but then we had to go to the festival? The next night? The winter festival? Long, long tables.
J: This was a huge hall—long, long tables of drunken Danes. Just as you would expect, really. There were like five hundred Danes. Huge PA system. Other much more popular acts such as Dissing Dissing Las and Dissing.
C: The Old Jazz Men. They were pretty hot.
J: So nobody cared too much when we came on at the end of the night.
C: Had a couple dancers. But, yeah, we weren't the hottest thing on the market.
J: We did meet a guy – that was our first experience with Danish fare – just stopping in a little café.
C: A little one horse fucking town, we drove up and down it for a while looking to find anything.
J: This is what you want when you travel—go to a place with a café owner, possibly androgynous, who is going to take care of you, give you the things that the area is famous for at a low cost. And he had a funny little laugh.
C: Kem! He looked like humpty dumpty. Brought out pickled herring, aquavit, schnapps.
J: I loved that guy. Until the next morning when those crazy Irish people …
C: Their band name was Almost Irish.
J: Even the Danes don't like to hear Danish music.
C: Those guys brought different hats for every song. They had a little kind of American country song, and put on a straw hat; popular English song, top hat; next thing they were wearing sunglasses and singing about coconuts.
J: That guy even fucking came over and sang at our table.
C: Yelled at our table!
J: It was one in the afternoon! We were just trying to get pickled herring!
TO BE CONTINUED IN ACT II
Caleb Klauder plays the Mission Theater on April 24. Jesse Emerson and Amelia have their CD Release at the Aladdin April 19. Ned Folkerth plays with Lewi Longmire every Thursday at Laurelthirst happy hour (6-8). The rest is silence.