Estonian indie rockers Ewert and The Two Dragons recently released their newest album, Circles, and tonight’s the night to catch them live in Cleveland with Jack and the Bear and Noon. The band, which has previously toured with Cleveland’s own The Lighthouse and The Whaler, create a bright sound that delicately traipses the indie and folk line. Fans of Mumford and Sons, Vance Joy or The Lumineers will love this band! Ewert and the Two Dragons began by having intimate and emotionally connected concerts in the clubs of Tallinn and Tartu, which then gave way to Baltic tours. Today, the band is one of very few Estonian acts who have also won over Latvian and Lituanian music lovers. They have also been the opening act for a TEDxTallinn conference and performed at the biggest Baltic music festival—Positivus—of which Finnish music magazine Rumba said they were “the best of the entire festival.”
We caught up with guitarist Erki Pärnoja to talk about his musical roots, the Estonian music scene and what it’s like to pursue your dreams. Check it out!
What drew you to performing music?
I come from a family with a lot of musical background. Nobody’s really been professional, but my mother and her mother and everybody sang in choirs, which is pretty common where I come from. Also, my uncle was a rock star back in the day. He was the lead singer of a punk rock band, so we had musical instruments—guitars, a few horns—and music in the house all the time.
When I was really young, around ten or something, my mother started coming with suggestions that I could go and join a choir if I wanted to or a brass orchestra if I wanted to. She never pushed me to anything, but she gave me some options and I took them and one thing lead to another. I found myself to be a guitarist at some point.
Did you do both the brass orchestra and vocal choir?
Yeah, the choir and the brass orchestra. I did it for a pretty long time. I think I sang in choirs for maybe five years and I played horn and other brass instruments for five, six or seven years maybe.
What made you transition to guitar?
I think it’s a cool instrument and it was the first instrument that I saw standing in the corner in our house when I was little. I sort of went back to my roots. When I was a kid, I saw a lot of guitars standing around here or there, but I hadn’t developed an interest for them yet, but I think they still left a strong impression.
How did you meet the other members in your band?
The drummer, Christian, I met through one of these orchestra. He was playing classical percussion and we were in our early teenage years when we met. It was like orchestra performances and trips abroad. Although we were from different corners of Estonia, we had this bond and became very great friends through all these trips. After a few years, he actually played the drumset and I had found the guitar. We started playing these instruments together and then we both moved to Tallinn. I came a few years later than him.
There’s this school in college, it’s basically a music college for pop and jazz music and classical music and all four of us from Ewert & the Two Dragons have gone to this school at some point. Not at the same time, but at some time. That’s the place where everyone goes to make friends , professional connections or just meet other musicians. You sort of have to go there to get into the musician’s circle in Tallinn. We all met thanks to this school, but we also played in different bands together. I had a band with the drummer, the drummer had a band with the singer, I had a band with the bass player, to which our drummer joined later on. Really confusing, a lot of combinations; we just played a lot together.
At some point the four of us played together and we started producing this record for an Estonian singer and we had to spend a lot of time together and write and record and figure out the songs, everything. Then we discovered it was working really well, so why do all of that for somebody else? That’s when we became a band.
I went to music school, too. I think playing in all those combinations of people definitely helps you develop your own musicianship into something bigger than it could be.
There are such a great number of different musicians that even if you don’t find the right one instantly, you’ll get closer to what you want, even through playing with people you feel that you don’t connect with, you’re closer to your truth.
When you approach songwriting, is it a group effort or is there one person that comes with an idea to work off of?
It’s usually like that. It’s been a lot of collective work because it takes an amount of time to write the song, to get the basic things ready—lyrics or the melody or chord changes—and then the arrangement thing I think is sometimes a greater work, to make the song really sound like us. Up until now, I think it’s been either me or Ewert, the singer, we send some demos and we come to the rehearsal rooms, present our ideas and then the four of us work further with that.
How would you say the music community differs in Estonia from the United States?
I don’t know. I haven’t been in the community, spent enough time here in the States like that, as a musician to really compare it. We just come over here, we have a tour and a really busy schedule and we spend pretty little time in every city or town. There have been some bands that we’ve toured together and if I just consider those two or three bands we know well, I’d say judging from that, it doesn’t differ much at all. I think it really doesn’t anywhere else in the world either. I think the musicians or the communities are pretty much the same, depending on what kind of things you do. I think people that resonate on a certain wavelength or energy, they might have a different language, but they’re pretty much the same everywhere.
Music is a universal language.
Not so long ago, you toured with one of Cleveland’s bands, The Lighthouse and The Whaler. How was that experience?
It was really fun. Actually, just on the way here, a few days ago when we hopped on the plane from Helsinki to come over here, we were just talking about them and said, it would be so nice to see them again. But I heard they are recording somewhere outside of Cleveland right now.
Yeah, they’re in Canada right now working on the record.
Yeah, exactly. So we won’t get to see them this time, but next time certainly. We’ve kept in touch, written each other every once and a while. They were a really fun crowd to tour with. We had a lot of fun.
What would you say is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from touring?
The biggest lesson? That you should not eat burgers every day. Seriously. That’s the greatest lesson I have learned. Don’t eat burgers every day. Eating well and healthy is really important on tour because if you have a lot of dates, you need a lot of energy. It’s funny, but it’s true, too.
What advice would you give to someone else who wanted to pursue music as a career?
Just do it! I mean, one has to follow their dreams. When I was younger and went to school, there were many people, grown-up people, teachers or other people who would have their doubts in that sort of a career. Of course, I had mine, too, but they were really minor. I’m 31 now and I’ve been doing this for more than half of my life and I haven’t regretted it once. Quite the opposite. It’s a thing that you want to do and you know that you have to do it. There’s no other way.
Want to win tickets to tonight’s show? Leave us a comment with your favorite thing to do in Cleveland. We’ll pick the most creative answer at 7pm!