Ask Madison musician Ida Jo Pajunen, who performs under the name Ida Jo, how to build a rock band and you won’t hear anything about a guitar. Or a bass guitar, for that matter. Ida Jo and the Show doesn’t have either.
The trio features an upright bass along with a drummer and a violin. Violinist Ida Jo is also the vocalist, and sometimes she creates a percussive rhythm with her violin as if she were the drummer, too. It’s a lot different than the standard garage band down the street.
“I have had a lot of people point that out,” Ida Jo said. “‘How come you do this together? Sing and play? No one else does that.’
“I think it’s good to push the boundaries of instruments. A lot of times violin is either classical or bluegrass,” she said.
She will play an acoustic set with bandmade Scott Lamps on Saturday, Jan. 30, at The Frequency, opening for Dan Navarro, formerly of the roots-rock duo Lowen & Navarro.
Ida Jo’s performances combine a number of styles and techniques, all drawn from her past. Although classically trained and immersed in the Suzuki method since the age of seven, she is no stranger to folk and bluegrass music. Growing up, she spent summers competing in fiddle contests, and even playing traditional Finnish folk music.
Ida Jo left her hometown of Duluth, Minn. in 2005 to study violin performance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She quickly found a place performing and recording with Madison artists, including Mike Droho and The Compass Rose.
In May, Ida Jo and bass player Scott Lamps branched out as a separate project, and the Show was born.
“I knew that I wanted to play and sing, and for a while I didn’t know how I was going to do it,” Ida Jo said. “I was like, ‘Well, if I work on it, I can probably sing and do that [play] at the same time.’ So that’s kind of where it came from. I mean, it really came out of a necessity.’
“It definitely took me a while to get the coordination, the singing and the playing. I was like, ‘This hurts my head,’” she said, laughing.
Although she has no formal voice training, Ida Jo has no reservations about using her voice as much as the violin. At a recent gig at the High Noon Saloon, when she began singing haunting songs like “He’ll Never Know,” heads turned and the chatty audience grew quiet.
“Voice is definitely still new to me, which is kind of fun, to discover something new,” she said.
Ida Jo also employs an uncommon violin technique called chopping. Borrowed from her bluegrass days, chopping uses the bow to create a percussive sound on the violin. She said she savors the opportunity to bring new sounds or ideas into mainstream music.
“I try to write songs that are accessible to people, but I try to also write songs about things that I find really interesting or ideas that I think would bring something new to songwriting and new to people. And I think there’s a tendency just to write love songs because that’s what is mostly out there,” she said.
The songs on her band’s first album, “Providence,” aren’t likely to be accused of sounding like just another love song. Most of the tracks deal with concepts like fate, courage and family. Many of them come from Ida Jo’s own experiences. “Colors,” she noted, was written during a lecture on racial discrimination.
Ida Jo is currently writing her next album, due out sometime this spring. Asked what new curveball fans can expect, she was coy about disclosing too much just yet.
“I get bored kind of easily, so there will definitely be some new trick.”