The husband and wife duo of Mikael Marin (five-stringed viola) and Mia Marin (five-stringed fiddle) are Swedish five-string masters of the highest order. Whether it’s playing with Väsen, performing solo, touring together as the duo Marin/Marin, or teaching at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, they are two of the most important musical exports that their homeland has to offer.
After 23 years, many albums and awards with Väsen, Mikael Marin teamed up with his wife, Mia, to create something truly special. So far Marin/Marin has released three albums, Mot Hagsätra, Småfolket, and their most recent release, Skuggspel. Their sound is an amalgam of Scandinavian baroque, traditional Swedish folk, and original, modern interpretive compositions that are an absolute aural enjoyment to experience.
Mikael and Mia, when and how did you two first start playing the fiddle? What was it about the fiddle, as an instrument of musical expression, that first attracted you?
I started to play the fiddle when I was eight or nine years old. My first experience was terrible. I had this old tired and mean guy as my first teacher. At our lessons, he always told me that I was way behind “the others.” I was eight years old and had not the slightest clue who “the others” were. After that I joined the local fiddlers’ team and that was great. I still remember when I learned how to bow/slur my first tunes and when I discovered the way to make ornaments. Those were “wow” moments! Two months in the fiddlers team and I was hooked.
For me, traditional music was THE music, before I knew anything about genres. Party music, everyday music, funerals, weddings… My father is a traditional fiddler, and some of my dearest childhood memories are connected with that music. I remember midsummer evening parties when my parents’ friends were over at our house, jamming in the kitchen. I just loved the way that sound and that whole context made me feel. There is always a midnight concert in Gunnarskog’s church at midsummer, and my family hosts a late-night dinner afterwards for some friends. As a small child I used to sneak under the kitchen table with a pillow and just lie there, enjoying the sound of all the feet tapping the beat around me, the music and the laughter. I thought they couldn’t find me, and forgot about me, but I’ve realized that they knew exactly where I was but let me fall asleep there in the middle of the party. For my fifth birthday, I got my first fiddle. I should have been really happy, I guess, but have been told that I cried. In my house fiddles were about as unique and exciting as pens or something. There were so many lying around, and I had wished for a desk for my birthday. My father taught me my first tunes, and I started in music school when I was six.
Mikael, you also play five-string viola and the violino grande. What are the similarities and differences, playing-wise, when compared to a fiddle?
When I first started to play the five-string viola I treated it as either a viola or a fiddle. It is tuned as a fiddle and a viola in one (C, G, D, A, E). After a while I realized that the great benefit was to use the whole range of the instrument instead of dividing it into two. The angles over the bridge are a bit different also, because of the extra string. That was a bit tricky in the very beginning. Mia plays five-string fiddle. It has the same strings as my five-string viola, even though the sound of my C string is a bit bigger, and her E string is a bit more brilliant.
The violino grande is tuned as a five-stringed octave fiddle (G, D, A, E, B) so the differences from a fiddle are more significant than the five-string viola. On the violino grande I use much more baseline-oriented thinking; also the acoustic power is less.
Mikael, you are a founding member of Swedish neo-traditional roots legends Väsen. How did you put Väsen together, and did you foresee the band making as much of an impact in world music as it has?
It all began with me and Olov Johansson when we started to play as a duo. That was many years before the band was formed. We have the same traditional origin. Olov learned from Kurt Tallroth and I learned from Ivar Tallroth, Kurt’s older brother. This was back in the early ’80s. The band Väsen was put together as Olov’s solo record project and the name of that album was Väsen (1989). After it was released, people started to ask for “Väsen” and we simply took that name. After 26 years of making music, we can easily look in the rearview mirror and say that we had absolutely no idea that we would travel around the world with our polskas from Sweden.
It may seem a rather logical transition, but how and when did you two decide to perform and tour together as the musical unit Marin/Marin?
I really missed the duo format after years of playing and performing in bigger constellations and when I met Mia we realized that we both wanted to explore what we could achieve as a duo. That is ten years ago now.
We started playing together as Marin/Gustafsson before we were a couple. In those days, we were both mostly “second voice players,” meaning that in all our bands we were the ones who most enjoyed improvising harmonies, accompaniments, and second voices, while someone else took charge of the melody. One of the things we noticed in the beginning was that we were both kind of waiting for an impulse from the other one (typical “second voice player disease”), which led to the tempos slowing down all the time. We had fun working on that for a while, to realize what we had to change to make it work. I think we both became much better melody players and much more groovy second voice players through our experiments and practice sessions.
[To read the rest of this article, purchase the Spring 2016 issue
[Michael Lohr is a professional musician and music journalist. He is a member of several music organizations and votes for various yearly honors, from the televised Country Music Association (CMA) awards and selected Grammy awards to Great Britain’s World Music Awards. To learn more, visit www.internet.is/artist/writer/michael_lohr.htm.]