For several years after returning home from studying the nyckelharpa in Sweden, Amy searched for fellow musicians interested in exploring modern and traditional Scandinavian folk music. In 2018, she found them in Collin Stackhouse, Joe Pomianek, and Steven Skolnik.
Amy grew up playing in a bluegrass family band, alongside an education in classical violin. She was introduced to Swedish folk music by the band Väsen, when they performed at the Wintergrass Bluegrass Festival in 2008. In 2014 she bought my first nyckelharpa, and seven months later she moved to Sweden for a year to study with some of the world’s best nyckelharpa players. Amy came back to Portland full of polskas and ideas, and started writing her own tunes based on Swedish folk tradition. She recorded a few songs with some friends, but they didn’t live in Portland so most of her tune ideas lay dormant.
A little over a year after Amy was back in the States, she ran into percussionist Steven Skolnik at a show. They had gone to the same high school, and even played in the same youth orchestra in Portland, but never really interacted as adolescents. Steven was interested in exploring the combination of hand percussion and nyckelharpa. They got together a few times to talk about music and start working out some arrangements for a few of Amy’s original tunes. Steven introduced her to the various percussion instruments he plays, including darbuka, frame drum, and an interesting new instrument called an “Aludu,” an electric version of an Udu. The two musicians performed once together that winter as a duo.
Shortly after their duo performance, Amy met Collin Stackhouse at a dinner with some friends. Somehow it came up that they both played fiddle, and Amy mentioned her interest in Scandinavian folk music. Collin knew a few Nordic Fiddlers Bloc tunes, so naturally they exchanged numbers and made plans to get together and jam. Soon after, Collin invited Amy to play a gig with him on St. Patrick’s Day. He had also invited his friend Joe Pomianek along, to play guitar. The three of them played two gigs together on March 17th, 2018, and by the end of the day Amy had concocted a plan to combine this trio with her duo project with Steven. Everyone was excited about forming this new band, and several months later Varelse was born. The band name is the Swedish word for “creature” (and fans of the Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card will recognize it as a term used in his book “Speaker for the Dead”).
Varelse recorded their debut album, Creature Comforts, in the winter of 2018, and released it on March 14th, 2019.