Staying Happy with the Happy Heartaches

Written by: Kara Kundert

We here at Bluegrass Pride have been big fans of the Happy Heartaches since we first heard their version of the traditional old-time song, "Cindy" back in 2018. So you can imagine how excited we were to hear that they released an EP, titled "Over There", at the end of May!

We sat down with the talented Alicia Jardine, who alternately sings, picks mandolin, and strums the banjo for the Happy Heartaches, to learn more about band and get a sneak peak into the creation of the WLW anthem "Annie on My Mind". 

Answers edited for length and clarity.

We don't see a lot of bluegrass and old-time bands coming from Scandinavia! Can you tell me a little bit about how the Happy Heartaches came to be? How did you discover bluegrass and old-time music?

The bluegrass and old time community is pretty small in Sweden and Scandinavia, and every festival always has room for cajun, traditional jazz, honky tonk and country blues acts because we all have to sort of stick together. Everyone seems to know each other one way or the other and our fiddle player, Albin, was the link between me and Max (Guitar) and Brita (bass). We met up at Grenna Bluegrass Festival two years ago and it was love at first jam!

Personally, I discovered bluegrass and old-time music through the magic of internet. I remember being 13 and surfing around on YouTube and clicked my way to a clip with the Dixie Chicks performing Darrel Scott's song “Long Time Gone”. and was immediately hooked. I bought my first banjo and it was like a new world, and especially as a female string instrumentalist, I found so many role models to look up to such as Rhiannon Giddens, Sierra Hull and Maybelle Carter.

The band plays a mix of original and traditional songs. How do you choose songs for the band? How did you discover the voice and style of the Happy Heartaches?

We started out, like I presume many bands in the genre, playing traditional songs or covers. However, we had an early outspoken goal to incorporate our own material into the repertoire so that was a chance for me to bust out all the songs I’d written and challenge us to write. Over There, the first track on our EP, was Max and Brita’s first ever co-written song. The song is about a young, naïve couple dreaming of crossing the pond because everything (seemingly) will be better over there.

Me, Brita, and Albin are also active within the Swedish and Scandinavian traditional music scene, either as performers, dancers, or teachers. There is an ever-on-going discussion surrounding the balance between maintaining and evolving the tradition, and that tradition actually craves renewal to stay alive and relevant. I think we as a band have that approach to bluegrass and old-time music as well. How we as a group of Swedes can play traditional music from North America, how we hopefully add something while still staying true and respectful to the tradition. Like poking fun of the glorified image we Swedes have of the US…

Also, our fiddle player Albin, the son of a Choir conductor, always talks about how we are a perfect four-part SATB choir, and how we use it to our advantage to add our own flair to harmonizing.

This song, "Annie on my Mind", tells a beautiful and tender story about being a woman-loving woman. It also specifically addresses the idea that a higher power created you (and all LGBTQ+ people) to be just as you are. Where did you find inspiration for this song? What message are you hoping to spread?

"Annie on my mind" was a phrase -- I believe it’s a title of a youth novel -- that got stuck in my head a few years ago. It started a train of thought; why was she on my mind? And why couldn’t I stop thinking about her? Who was hearing the thoughts of this girl? Was there someone out there listening?

I believe that embracing your identity and sexuality as something natural, normal, even special and divine can liberate you and make you see that all these norms telling you that you are wrong are just socially constructed. Whether you believe in an higher power or not, the power to believe in yourself, that you are worthy of safety and love regardless of what you identify as or who you love is a very, if not the most powerful tool we people within the LGBTQ+ community have. That is the message I am hoping to spread.

You sometimes describe your songs as being "gaygrass". Tell me: what does "gaygrass" mean to you?

We started joking around in the band how all my songs were “gay” and that we should call it Gaygrass. I mean hey, the 80’s and 90’s we’re all about Newgrass so I guess the next step is just to queer it up? We’re seeing a new era of openly queer artists who are genre- and gender-bending mainstream music, so why not in bluegrass, old time and traditional genres?

I think what made me want to really start exploring non-straight love stories in songwriting was Harlan Howard definition of a good country song: “Three chords and the truth”. Well this is my truth. This is the truth of many people that due to stigmatization and homophobia hasn’t been told. As a queer artist granted the privilege of a platform, a stage to share my music, I think I need to do my part by adding more lgbtq+ art into the world. Otherwise I’m silencing myself, and what kind of fun would that be?

What are your hopes for the Happy Heartaches and how they might fit into the broader Bluegrass Pride and international bluegrass communities?

Our hope is to, as soon as it’s possible again of course, to head out and play live shows all over Scandinavia and Europe. We won Grenna Bluegrass Awards last year where the prize was a trip to DelFest, which sadly but understandably got cancelled this year. We hope to travel to next years edition and of course be able to play some more in the US. I personally also would like to see us collaborate with other musicians within the bluegrass, old-time and folk scene locally and internationally, and with other artists within the LGBTQ+ community!

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