If you dig into singer/songwriter Daniel Norgren’s background, it’s not hard to trace the roots of his strong independent streak.
Norgren grew up near Borås, Sweden, a town of around 70,000 people, where he knew no one else who was interested in playing the guitar, writing songs, or even listening to the kind of rootsy American music he loved.
Even his father—a singer and guitarist with a record collection dominated by American rock ’n’ roll—left Norgren to find his own musical way.
“He found this cheap, busted-up junkyard guitar in an old trash container, and he gave it to me when I was in high school. I just started strumming it,” Norgren says. “But he never taught me anything. He just gave me the guitar and said, ‘You can do whatever you want with it.’”
Armed with “three rusty strings” and an inquisitive mind, Norgren started digging into the roots of the music he’d heard. He followed them to Bob Dylan, and then to old bluesmen like Robert Johnson. He took a day off school and wrote a poem, then decided to pair poetry and the guitar. His dad was extremely supportive, but for the most part, Norgren found his sound in solitude.
“I didn’t know anyone to play with,” he says. “Sometimes I’d play with my dad, but you cannot play with your dad your whole life.”
These days, Norgren, 34, lives in Rude, Sweden, a tiny place with “two neighbors and just one street.” It’s where he, his wife, and a longtime friend manage his successful music career, which includes six full-length albums and regular tours of huge concert halls across Europe. Until recently, they’d done everything—writing songs, recording albums, booking shows, handling press requests, and everything in between—all by themselves.
“It’s going to be me in the middle of that stage, but at the same time, I’m calling the biggest venues in Sweden to make sure they spell my name right on the tickets,” Norgren says with a laugh. “It’s very down to earth. I like being independent and having control of every step that we’re taking.”
Starting this week, however, Norgren will have to give up a bit of that control as he heads out on his first-ever North American tour. The jaunt is largely a result of his partnership with Pickathon co-producer Terry Groves, who brought Norgren to the Portland music festival in 2016, when he wowed the crowd with his stirring singing voice, his natural command of the stage, and a seemingly bottomless supply of bluesy, heartfelt folk songs. When you watch Norgren perform, you feel like you’re experiencing something special.
Norgren says the Pickathon crew “kicked down the door” to America for him. His brilliant 2015 album Alabursy drew some attention stateside, as did its follow-up, The Green Stone. But otherwise, setting off across the United States—home to the music traditions that inspire his own work—feels every bit as big and exciting as you might expect.
“It’s a thing that we’ve been dreaming of, but silently,” Norgren says. “We haven’t talked about it and we haven’t planned too much. Things have been growing slowly, but in the right way, I think. And now, it feels strange to say, but it feels like we’re going to test these songs out on an audience that is used to this kind of expression.”
Along the way, he hopes to tap into the same feeling that initially drew him to early blues music. He knows he can’t will it to happen. He just has to wait.
“It’s hard to say what it is, but it’s some sort of a mystic shimmer that really hooked me. It’s like, ‘What is that? I can see what he’s doing. But there’s something there that I cannot put my finger on,’” Norgren says. “I’m still trying to figure out what it is.”