QQQ: Unorthodox Americana, Via Traditional Norway With an exotic fiddle, a viola, a classical guitar and a drum kit, the quartet called QQQ creates something like Appalachian folk music — albeit filtered through Brooklyn experimentalism and rural Norwegian flavor. The band plays a special session in Studio 4A.
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Unorthodox Americana, Via Traditional Norway

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Unorthodox Americana, Via Traditional Norway

Unorthodox Americana, Via Traditional Norway

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With the sounds of a traditional Norwegian fiddle, viola, a classical guitar and a drum set, the music of QQQ suggests an odd kind of Americana, evoking a place somewhere between Oslo, Brooklyn, and the hills of Appalachia. The band's new CD is called "Unpacking the Trailer," and QQQ is set up to play in NPR Studio 4A. So let me introduce the group, starting with fiddle player Dan Trueman. He heads the band up. Welcome to the program, Dan.

Mr. DAN TRUEMAN (QQQ): Thank you very much.

HANSEN: And Monica Mugan plays guitar. Monica, nice to meet you.

Ms. MONICA MUGAN (QQQ): Nice to be here.

HANSEN: Jason Treuting is on drums and percussion. Jason, a treat to meet you.

Mr. JASON TREUTING (QQQ): Good to see you.

HANSEN: And over there in the corner, we have Beth Meyers on viola. Beth, it's nice to see you way over there.

Ms. BETH MEYERS (QQQ): Nice to be here.

HANSEN: Dan, I want to start with you because you have the most beautiful instrument in your arms.

Mr. TRUEMAN: Well, it's an elaborately decorated instrument. It looks at first like a violin that some child has gotten loose with, with some kind of marker. 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. And at the top there is a dragon scroll with a very large head of hair. Sometimes they have women at the top, but - I think that was the Viking thing, to either have dragons or women on the front of their boats, and same thing with their fiddles.

HANSEN: Now, the Viking thing is important because I want you to pronounce the name of that fiddle.

Mr. TRUEMAN: Okay. So this is a Hardanger fiddle, or in Norway they call it the hardingfele.

HANSEN: Hardanger.

Mr. TRUEMAN: Hardanger. In the States, sometimes we call it the Hardanger fiddle. It's all - if you want a little twang with it, you can call it the Hardanger fiddle; that's fine, too.

HANSEN: Now, what is its special musical quality? I mean, it has many more strings then a regular violin.

Mr. TRUEMAN: Right, it has five strings underneath the main four strings that you bow. So like a regular violin, you bow the top four strings. But it has these additional set of five strings, in this case, that are sympathetic strings. They simply sing along as you play, and so it gives the instrument this very warm, ringing quality to it, kind of an ethereal quality to it.

HANSEN: I would like you to demonstrate it, with just an excerpt from a full track that's on the CD. It's called "Orton's Ode." But could you just play just a little so we can hear that sonorous and echoey effect?

MR. TRUEMAN: You bet

(Soundbite of song, "Orton's Ode")

HANSEN: Dan Trueman, demonstrating the Hardanger fiddle, a piece of "Orton's Ode." With a Norwegian name, you'd think I could get Hardanger right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: But it's tough, it's tough to say. You dedicate this piece, though, on the CD to your Uncle Ort. Who's Uncle Ort?

Mr. TRUEMAN: Uncle Orton, my great uncle, actually. Orton Ensted(ph), who passed away at 102 while I was actually working on this tune. So…

HANSEN: Really.

Mr. TRUEMAN: I was - that's where the name comes from. I was thinking about him when I was working on the tune.

HANSEN: Did he play the fiddle as well?

Mr. TRUEMAN: No, but he knew the fiddle and the fiddle music well, which was exciting because I didn't discover this instrument until I was an adult, and when he found out that I was getting into it, he was very excited. 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. And so he was very excited to see it going on to the next generation.

HANSEN: Well, we want to give our listeners a chance to hear the full monty, as it were - I mean, a full group. And we're going to celebrate the equinox. We're at that time of year, and you actually have a very appropriate piece. You call it "Spring." Dan, you want to say anything else about it before we hear it?

Mr. TRUEMAN: Actually, this is Jason's tune.

HANSEN: Jason.

Mr. TRUEMAN: That he wrote for us. So I usually - I always defer to Jason when introducing this tune because he changes the name all the time.

HANSEN: All right, Jason. Jason Treuting over there on the drum kit.

Mr. TREUTING: It is timely to be able to play it now and for it actually to be able to be called "Spring." We usually kind of change the title; you know, it's been known as Valentine's Day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TREUTING: It's been known as, you know, "Turkey Day."

Mr. TRUEMAN: "Dark of Winter."

Mr. TREUTING: It's been known as "The Dark of Winter." You know, it's been known - you know, it's - I don't know. We're kind of chameleons, you know? We like to fit in with, you know, what's around us.

HANSEN: All right, well, this year it - right now it's called "Spring," and this is the group QQQ in NPR Studio 4A.

(Soundbite of song, "Spring")

HANSEN: "Spring," played by the group QQQ in NPR Studio 4A. You heard Dan Trueman on Hardanger fiddle, Monica Mugan on classical guitar, Beth Meyers on viola, and Jason Treuting on drums.

I want to put a spotlight on perhaps something that our listeners won't know about all four of you, is that there are two married couples here. You mentioned - Monica, Dan, you are husband and wife? Yes? And Beth, you and Jason are married?

Ms. MEYERS: Right.

HANSEN: So what are the pros and cons of…

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: …going around as a married couple/quartet?

Ms. MUGAN: I don't think we've ever been asked that before.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TRUEMAN: Only pros.

Ms. MUGAN: Only pros.

Mr. TREUTING: Only pros.

Ms. MEYERS: Only pros.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TRUEMAN: Better not break up.

Ms. MEYERS: We're there for each other.

HANSEN: Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh. No, so you don't end up telling, you know, like Monica, the guitarist, doesn't tell viola jokes when Beth is around.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: There are no percussion jokes, you know.

Ms. MUGAN: No. Definitely wife moments where we, you know, we sort of go off into separate ends of the room, and the guys go over there and the girls go over here, and it's like, all right, guys, let's get back together, rehearsal time again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: That's great. You're going to play us out with a tune that's called "Happy 'Til You Hurt Yourself." We've all been there. It's from their new CD. And before you play us out, I have to ask you: What in the world does QQQ mean? Not like you've never been asked this before.

Mr. TRUEMAN: We have to defer to Beth to answer this question.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MEYERS: I'm not allowed to answer this question. Jason?

Mr. TREUTING: Just as - like I said, "Spring"…

HANSEN: "Spring."

Mr. TREUTING: We're chameleons. When my friend asked me what QQQ meant, one day it meant, you know, Quillen's Quazy Quaff. Another day it could mean, you know, the Queen's - help me out here, guys.

Mr. TRUEMAN: Quazy Quartet.


Ms. MEYERS: Quip.

Mr. TREUTING: Oh, Quip is good.

Mr. TRUEMAN: Quarry Quip.

HANSEN: Right. Something for everybody.

Mr. TREUTING: It means what it means to you.

HANSEN: Well, before we hear the tune, which is called "Happy 'Til You Hurt Yourself," I do want to say goodbye and thank you to all of you: Hardanger fiddle player Dan Trueman; classical guitar player Monica Mugan; Jason Treuting on drums and percussion; and violist Beth Meyers. Thank you all very, very much.

Mr. TRUEMAN: Thank you.

Ms. MUGAN: Thank you.

Mr. TREUTING: Thank you.

Ms. MEYERS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "Happy 'Til You Hurt Yourself")

HANSEN: "Unpacking the Trailer" is the name of QQQ's new CD on New Amsterdam Records. Our thanks to Studio 4A Engineer Neil Tivolt. You can see a video of Dan Trueman playing a solo on his Hardanger fiddle, and listen to three full Studio 4A performances, on our Web site, NPRmusic.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is back next week, thank goodness. I'm Liane Hansen.

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