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The Wonderly of It All

You’ve heard the work of alt-folk/soundtrack mavens Wonderly; now the duo is releasing two collections about the ‘Pacific Northweird.’

The Wonderly: (l-r) Ben Landsverk, Jim Brunberg
The Wonderly: (l-r) Ben Landsverk, Jim Brunberg

Portland, OR (March 1, 2021)—Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk, otherwise known as Wonderly, have made a name for themselves over recent years with their quirky podcast themes and indie film soundtracks. Now they’ve trained their spotlight on the “Pacific Northweird,” releasing the first of two collections recounting the true-life tales of 1970s skyjacker DB Cooper, the Japanese balloon bombs of 1944 and the 19th century Holy Rollers sect.

“We call it a film and song cycle; each is a musical film as opposed to a music video,” says Brunberg. “We were always the support guys, so it’s the first real effort to put our musical vision into the world.”

Indeed, the pair of songwriters and multi-instrumentalists met years ago through their many gigs as collaborators and sidemen for the likes of Smokey Robinson, Kristin Hersh, Van Dyke Parks and John Wesley Harding. “One time, we had six rehearsals in one week with six different bands that we were both in,” says Brunberg, who also fronted Bay Area Americana band Box Set.

Wonderly were working as an acoustic duo—”a little more eclectic and weird than the Everly Brothers,” says Brunberg—when Boston NPR station WBUR asked them to produce the theme for the Dear Sugar Radio podcast. When the New York Times launched its podcast, The Daily, he says, “They came to us. The soundtrack work cascaded from there.”

Wonderly’s credits include feature films At the Video Store, Last Ferry and Luz, and TV series Tending Nature and Bojack Horseman. The duo’s work has also featured on commercials by Kia, Honda and Budweiser.

The pair lead busy lives outside of Wonderly. Landsverk is a session musician and musical director in Portland’s indie music scene. He is also the founder and leader of the drop-in pop choir Low Bar Chorale. Brunberg produces and co-hosts a podcast with his daughters, tends to his farm and co-owns three Portland area live venues: Revolution Hall, Mississippi Studios and Polaris Hall.

Studio Showcase: Setting Up San Juan Sound

Although he and Landsverk have different backgrounds, says Brunberg, “We were both fascinated about trying to explore our own curiosities and support each other’s curiosities. The most exciting thing about making music, to me, is to maintain a curiosity and try new things.”

Readers of a certain age will remember DB Cooper, a mysterious figure who, 50 years ago, parachuted from a Boeing 727 with a $200,000 ransom and was never seen again. On Story We Tell Volume 1, Wonderly relate events, more or less as they happened, on “November 1971.”

As luck would have it, they have a friend who lives in a converted 727, where they filmed the visuals. “It’s exactly the same model as the plane DB Cooper jumped out of,” says Brunberg. “We made a lot of props to give it that Northwest Airlines feel and true to the period.”

Mississippi Studios began in a former street church as a recording facility—hence the name—before morphing into a live venue. “I always enjoyed being in the studio, so I opened a recording studio. As time went on, I got tired of working with bands who wanted to spend three hours to get the right snare tone. It lost its charm for me. And I wanted to go back to making music for myself,” he says

Brunberg initially moved his gear into another space. “But then I discovered I like to do it from home, lazy as I am.”

Brunberg says, “My whole house is a production facility. I’ve converted the garage into the drum, Hammond B3 and piano tracking room. I have a Pro Tools HD rig in there and can go to town on different microphone positions and different preamps.” He overdubs in the living room. “That has the trumpets, saxophones, acoustic guitars and a little vocal station with a different Pro Tools rig. I have two young daughters that I’ve trained to not trip over cables. I live a very cluttered life, but my family has been very patient with me.”

Wonderly Music •