Friday Sep 13, 2013
*** Ewert and The Two Dragons *** While he was growing up in Estonia under the Soviet regime, music wasn't a chief import for Ewert Sundja. Contemporary pop had been unanimously prohibited due to its potentially harmful influence. Nevertheless, the vocalist of Ewert and The Two Dragons still managed to get his hands on some seminal albums that impact him to this day. "We had record and cassette players, but we didn't have access to contemporary music," he remembers. "So, I listened to Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Queen, and The Rolling Stones throughout my childhood. We were lucky to get those. If one of our friends got an Elton John tape, we all recorded it. When the Soviet era ended in the early nineties, it was a bit of culture shock. The pop music wasn't what we expected so I just kept listening to the same old records—except for when Radiohead and Jeff Buckley came along." Now, the group's second album and American debut for Sire/ADA, Good Man Down, is a shimmering distillation of timeless melodies, folk sensibilities, and effusive indie energy. It builds on a national legacy that these four lads—Sundja, Erki Pärnoka [guitars], Kristjan Kallas [drums], and Ivo Etti [bass, guitar]—forged with their 2009 breakout The Hills Behind the Hills. Touring constantly around Estonia and neighboring countries, they became a consistent live draw even joining the likes of Muse and Scissor Sisters on massive Eastern European festival bills. Good Man Down saw an initial Estonian release in 2011, becoming a phenomenon. It garnered five Estonian Music awards, taking home "album of the year", "song of the year", and "band of the year". They continued blossoming outside of their home turf as well, becoming honored with Skype's "Go Change the World" award from Tallin Music Week. One year later, they inked a deal with Sire/ADA to release their sophomore set stateside. Their biggest accolade came in early 2013 as well. They were honored with a "European Borders Breakers Award" whose previous winners have included Mumford & Sons, Adele, Swedish House Mafia, Milow, Afrojack, Of Monsters & Men, and more. The album serves as a fitting gateway into the world of Ewert and The Two Dragons. Its elegant harmonies bare cultural flavors informed by the snowy winters and forests, yet there's nothing icy about Ewert and The Two Dragons. In fact, they're quite warm. To harness this sound on Good Man Down, the group retreated to a music school in Türi, where they lived and recorded for only a week-and-a-half. "There are cultural houses in Estonia from the Soviet time," explains Ewert. "They were typically used for either theaters or concert halls. We recorded in one of those. We got away from our homes and all of the every day business and focused on the music." That music transcends country and genre bounds. Songs like the title track and first single build on organic instrumentation into unshakable hooks. At the same time, the boys are always telling a story. "That one is a tragic love story from a time of being brokenhearted," the vocalist reveals. "The melody is upbeat though so it'd be easy to interpret as a more joyous song. We like to write music that can lead everyone to draw his or her own conclusion." Elsewhere, the vibrant "Jolene" serves as something of a male answer to the Dolly Parton classic of the same name. He smiles, "Erki went through a period where he listened to a lot of Dolly Parton. He heard 'Jolene', and he hummed it in a different way. That stuck with him. It's an answer to the female voice in Dolly's original. Think of it as the man's point-of-view that was missing in the first song." Then, there's the upbeat album opener "(In The End) There's Only Love" which celebrates as Ewert puts it, "The good times when you're in love." As a whole though, Good Man Down reflects an entire emotional spectrum for Ewert, and it's bound to resonate with listeners globally for that very reason. "It captures various themes from the beginning of life to adult discussions about it," he concludes. "There are darker songs, and there are brighter songs. It's a circle that we all live."