Lief in the Wind
The nomadic life led Norway’s Lief Sorbye to Celtic rock in California.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Lief Sorbye left his Oslo, Norway home for the United States in the early ’80s when he was 21 years old. He traveled around the continent as a street performer earning money through donations people dropped in a hat.
“I was already doing it all over Europe,” Sorbye says. “I heard America was a pretty big country and I wouldn’t run out of places to play.”
Sorbye says he caught the music bug at an early age after picking up a Bob Dylan songbook and taking some guitar lessons.
“I found out I could play songs even though I only knew two or three chords,” he says. “That’s when I really started having fun with the instrument.”
Fast forward to 1988: The Scandinavian settled in the Bay Area, where he formed Tempest, the group set to headline A Celtic Winter’s Eve in Pacific Grove on Friday. The quintet looks like a heavy metal band from the ’80s wearing hairstyles that haven’t changed much over the past 22 years.
“[Tempest] was formed and shaped out of years of experience with traditional Celtic music and my rock roots,” he says. “[Celtic] music is melodically and rhythmically uplifting and very similar to Norwegian music.”
Though they label themselves as a “Celtic rock” band, Sorbye explains that elements of several types of music help mold the band’s sound. Tempest’s 15th LP Another Dawn – inspired by the 2008 election of President Obama – features everything from a traditional Norwegian ballad to “Never Tire of the Road,” a traveling tune about Woody Guthrie, laced with fiddle and pedal-steel.
“It’s easier to call something Celtic rock because people know what Celtic is and they know what rock is,” he says.
Life hasn’t really changed much for the Norwegian since his early days as a road-tripping troubadour: Most of the year, Tempest spends its time out on that old and familiar road. Playing in front of people is still, and will probably always be, a labor of love for Sorbye.
“That’s where the magic happens,” he says. “It’s the ultimate experience.”