From Russia, with complicated love

Brendan Mulvihill’s lonely, chilly year abroad inspired Norwegian Arms’ debut album.

Philly musician Brendan Mulvihill packed his bags and moved to Russia after receiving a Fulbright Award in 2009. Then a graduate student at Temple University, his mission was to teach at Tomsk Polytechnic University and help the faculty revamp their English curriculum. "It was such a bizarre experience," he says. "On the surface, everything looked familiar -- but it definitely was not."

 

"Wolf Like A Stray Dog," the debut album by his band Norwegian Arms (with Eric Slick, of Dr. Dog), was written by Mulvihill during his year abroad. With very little knowledge of Russian, he was thrown into a confounding world with weather so cold he became accustomed to icicles hanging from his beard. He found comfort in vodka ("I drank dozens of bottles," he confesses), playing the mandolin, and filling his notebook with songs.

 

Mulvihill made some human friends, but felt closest to the stray dogs that roamed around the city. "They were everywhere," he says of the dogs, which inspired the album's title. "They adapted to life in human spaces very well in order to survive; they were generally friendly, and didn't attack. I felt the same way, as if I had to act a certain way to please people, and to blend in even though I clearly didn't belong."

 
 
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