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Transatlantic duo revives centuries-old melodies with a Swedish-Americana blend

Laurel Premo and Anna Gustavsson
Courtesy of Premo & Gustavsson
Laurel Premo and Anna Gustavsson


Take fiddle and banjo tunes of the United States and mix them with the music and dance tunes of Sweden, and there you have Premo & Gustavsson.

Our Songs from Studio East series explores music that combines both contemporary and traditional music from around the world. Premo & Gustavsson fit that bill perfectly.

Laurel Premo is from the Upper Peninsula and is a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Music. She’s well-known for her work in the American roots duo Red Tail Ring. She plays the fiddle and banjo.

Anna Gustavsson is from the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. She plays the nyckelharpa.

The two have been collaborating across the Atlantic for the past two years. Now they’re out touring to support their newly-released debut album, I Walked Abroad.

Premo grew up in the Upper Peninsula, where she said she was exposed to a lot of traditional Finnish and Swedish music.

When Gustavsson reached out to her, Premo says she was excited to get into Scandinavian music again.

They performed their song Lär mig, du skog for us in-studio.

"It's a choral, which is a religious hymn," Gustavsson said. "The melody on this one is traditional, we don't know how old it is. Lyric was written in the 1800s. It's about nature and to find inspiration in the different things in nature."

Check it out:

About half of the songs on I Walked Abroad are new pieces, Premo told us. But while they're writing new material, she said they want to spend just as much effort digging into musical history and keeping that past alive.

"There's a certain power behind it being old," she said. "It's just powerful to me to have roots in something.

"Maybe with the lyrics, that could teach us something both about how it was to live back then, but also a lot of these songs have things we can learn from today, too. We want to learn from history even though it's hard sometimes, but I think these tunes and songs are staying alive for a reason."

Listen to our conversation above for more from Premo & Gustavsson. More information on the album and the duo can be found here.

This segment originally aired on Nov. 15, 2016.
Songs from Studio East is supported in part by the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

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