If you’re familiar with Swedish guitar-and-drums duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums, then you’ll already be aware that singer and guitarist Mariam Wallentin has quite the voice. Smoky, jazzy and slightly slurred, in that gorgeous accent of hers that comes from having Swedish/Iranian parents, it always perfectly offset the raw and wild, stripped-down sounds she made with husband/drummer Andreas Weliin.
Although no doubt devoted to that band, Wallentin was left in need of a break last year following constant recording and touring with Wildbirds since they formed back in 2006. But rather than go off and seek peace and quiet, she decided the best thing to do was to launch a solo project – and so Mariam The Believer was born. Altogether more soulful and expansive than her work in Wildbirds, debut album Blood Donation combines Wallentin’s love of soul music, organ sounds, electronics and experimental jazz to incredible effect. Songs roll out past five, six, seven minutes allowing Wallentin to play around with the music and truly let her voice soar. For a record borne out of looking inwards, it’s filled with hope, belief and digging around for something more. Best Fit was delighted to catch up with Mariam at her home in Stockholm recently to talk about her new project, and what it’s like to be a serial killer in a modern opera…
So, what led Mariam to breaking away from Wildbirds & Peacedrums and taking on a solo record? “Well, I’d had it in the back of my mind for a couple of years actually,” she reveals. “I’d been touring so much with Wildbirds & Peacedrums and last summer we’d went on a really huge collaboration tour – Congotronics Vs Rockers – and it was just a peak of a long period of travelling…and I came back home and felt drained.” It seems Wallentin needed a break from people in general. She explains: “It was time to start over again – I really felt that! It was a wonderful experience but there were too many people and too many egos, and I was quite tired of that whole thing. I needed to look inward, a little bit, again and start a new creative process.”
Rather than taking any kind of complete break from music, Wallentin just kept writing: “So, this all finally fell into place; during the summer I had been writing some ‘texts’ sporadically, and quite soon after I came home I managed to write the whole album in less than two weeks! I’m often doing things quite intensely!” I ask if she might have been better off taking time away from music, as the writing of an album will inevitably lead to tours, press, interviews…“I think I just needed to, how do you say, explore another part of myself?” explain Mariam. “It wasn’t a dramatic thing; personally I think it suits me to have different things going on parallel that stimulate me so I don’t get too stuck in what I do, and gives me freedom.” Wallentin plays in W&P with her husband, drummer Andreas. I ask how he felt about Mariam going off and doing something on her own. “He was really supportive; because we decided to take a break…we’d been touring this last album quite a lot, and we’d never had a break! So we thought it’d be interesting to try that, to have a break from Wildbirds and see where we stand, after a while. He’s been working with other projects parallel to me doing the solo thing now.”
Two songs which really stand out on Blood Donation are “The String of Everything” and the epic “Invisible Giving“. These two, especially the latter, seem to encapsulate what Wallentin was aiming for with Mariam the Believer, so I ask, hoping that she’ll mention these two songs, if there was a particular track or writing experience that sparked the whole project: “Actually, I think it was ‘Invisible Giving’,” she admits. “That’s the first song I wrote for the album. For me, it’s quite interesting as it’s the longest song! Even if it sounds like some kind of collage, it actually came out that way and I couldn’t change it.” “Invisible Giving” is indicative of the more expansive sound on Blood Donation and it seems the track was always destined for Marian’s solo project once she realised it wouldn’t work as a Wildbirds track. She takes up the story: “I tried to play it with Andreas and make maybe two or three songs out of it, but it just didn’t work and it was then I realised ‘okay, this is my turning point!’” And has it been a freeing experience, or even fun to be out there on her own? “Yes, it has!” exclaims Marian. “Wildbirds is so much about taking off layers and finding the rawness in the song. The Believer has been more about finding some kind of warmth – I was quite into that. I knew right from the beginning that I wanted to have warm keys or organ of some sort.“