Singer/Songwriter from Sweden at Residency in Redwood Performs Monday

John Dunsö, aka Traveling John, of Sweden, spends his days at his residency at Better Farm, Redwood, writing music and doing farm chores. One of his chores is feeding the farm’s chickens. Photo/Nicole Caldwell

REDWOOD — Traveling John of Sweden has rambled into the north country for inspiration. John Dunsö created his moniker about a year ago as he began working on his solo album. The singer/songwriter from Sweden is in the hamlet of Redwood this month through a betterArts residency at Better Farm, a 65-acre education center, artists colony and organic farm on Cottage Hill Road.

To film the video for his song ‘Rerun,’ John Dunsö and his father devised a creative way to film the singer/songwriter as he cycled through his hometown.
Mr. Dunsö, 30, is the former guitarist for Billie the Vision and the Dancers, one of Sweden’s biggest indie-pop bands. Beginning in 2004, he toured with the band extensively through Sweden and Europe before leaving a few years ago to pursue a solo career.

He says he always dreamed of traveling around the world and recording a solo album.

“I’ve been out traveling since the beginning of 2012,” said Mr. Dunsö, who that year bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles.

He has traveled with his guitar and recording equipment through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. He hitchhiked and used different ride-sharing options.

“I slept where I could find a host and spend some weeks working on different farms,” Mr. Dunsö said.

He spent three months in the U.S. in 2012 before returning home that year.

“After a few months back home in Sweden, I did the same kind of trip to South America without knowing any Spanish at all,” Mr. Dunsö said.

He spent nearly a year in South America, traveling alone through Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Peru.

Mr. Dunsö returned to Sweden last May. That’s when he heard about artist residencies. He applied to a few of them.

“After getting accepted to Better Farm, I decided to combine that with doing a few months’ extra traveling to different cities on the East Coast and in the South, playing open mics and checking out the music scene,” Mr. Dunsö said.

Mr. Dunsö said he has been home just six months in the past two years.

“I’ve been out traveling since the beginning of 2012,” he said.

Concert at Tavern Monday

At the conclusion of each betterArts residency, artists are required to present works to the public in a performance, gallery show or reading.

Mr. Dunsö will present a free concert at 8 p.m. Monday at the Redwood Tavern, 43523 state Route 37, featuring a selection of music that will be included on his solo album he plans to release by the end of the year.

One song he previously wrote for his album, “Rerun,” has hit national radio rotation in Sweden on station Sveriges Radio P4, one of the most popular stations in the country.

He shot the video for “Rerun” in his hometown, Saxemara, near the end of last year before he left for the U.S. The song’s lyrics look back on his pleasant childhood.

“I was blessed with a really good environment around me when I was a kid,” Mr. Dunsö said. 

“That’s not something everybody has. I wanted to show some appreciation. A lot of people don’t have that same opportunity. I wanted to show how grateful I am for having the childhood that I had.”

Creative Camera Rig
Mr. Dunsö wanted the “Rerun” video — which includes file footage of his hometown shot 26 years ago by his father, Per Dunsö — to capture him riding around his hometown on his bicycle and reflecting on his surroundings. 

They thought of all sorts of technical ways he could do that.

“In the end, we threw them all in the garbage can” Mr. Dunsö said. “Instead, it was a ‘do-it-yourself’ style.”

He and his father rigged up a video camera/rake contraption, which was attached to Mr. Dunsö’s bicycle. The handle of the rake was strapped to his bicycle’s frame. The camera, focused a bit downward and facing the bike, was taped to the tines of the rake.

The crew faced many challenges during filming.

“It was crazy cold,” Mr. Dunsö said.

Another difficulty was trying to make his singing look natural as he was pedaling.

The bike route for the video was one mile.

“I had to do that around 12 times before I had enough material,” Mr. Dunsö said. “It was one mile there and one mile back; like 25 miles dressed in just a T-shirt and an open jacket. It was not pleasant at all. But I tried to look like I was enjoying it.”

Mr. Dunsö will release his second single for his upcoming album in late April or May. The single is called “To Sarah, Wherever You Are.”

“I can’t tell you more than that,” Mr. Dunsö said. “It’s a person that I lost and want to find again. That’s everything I can say. I haven’t told any person that.”

A Day on the Farm
A typical day at Better Farm for Mr. Dunsö involves waking up at 8 a.m., feeding the farm’s 12 chickens “and letting them out of their little houses.”

He then checks his email and makes phone contacts with sources in Sweden. He then has breakfast and writes lyrics and music. Following lunch, his writing is mixed with farm chores.

“It’s a combination of nature, creative work and vacation,” Mr. Dunsö said.

The singer/songwriter said he is looking forward to Monday’s concert.

“It will be the first concert I have with this music project,” he said. “There’s not been a lot of open mics on this journey. ”

Variety of Artists
BetterArts was incorporated in 2011. In addition to musicians, visiting artists have included sculptors and painters. Since its creation, about 30 artists have visited, according to Nicole Caldwell, betterArts president.

BetterArts residents are encouraged to interact and participate in the goings-on around the property and to help out with farm chores.

Better Farm includes a two-story converted hay barn featuring post-and-beam architecture, track lighting and more than 1,500 square feet of studio space. Its second-story deck allows for outdoor performances.

BetterArts is self-funded, largely through two annual benefit concerts. Also, its resident artists pay a small stipend.

Ms. Caldwell said many artists get their own funding through grants or scholarships. Others pay out of their own pockets.

“The draw, in addition to how beautiful the north country is, is — for a lot of artists — that intersection where sustainability and art overlap,” Ms. Caldwell said.

The Better Festival, an annual open house, fundraiser and alumni weekend for Better Farm and betterArts, is scheduled from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, June 21, at the facility.

Summerfest, the second music festival, will be held in August at a date to be determined.The details

WHAT: Concert by John Dunsö — “Traveling John” — as part of his residency at betterArts.
WHEN/WHERE: 8 p.m. Monday at the Redwood Tavern, 43523 state Route 37.
COST: Free
A video of Mr. Dunsö’s first single, “Rerun,” off his album to be released later this year:

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.