When listening to the infectious sound of Otrov’s brand of tamburica (a kind of Croatian folk music), it’s hard to believe that it has anything to do with poison.
Yet Otrov means “poison” in Croatian.
The story behind such as odd choice for the sextet’s name goes back a decade.
Otrov was founded in 2002 when most of its members were either at or had recently graduated from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
Early on, the members were having difficulty coming up with a band name. After one long night of rehearsal, they sat around talking while drinking some sljivovica (plum brandy) which their then singer had gotten from Croatia.
The next day they woke up hung over.
“We asked each other, ‘What was that we drank? Poison?,’ “ recalled Peter Kosovec, one of the group’s founding members.
And Otrov was born.
The group’s current lineup features Vjeko Dimter on bugarija and guitar; Marko Dreher, brac and violin; John Huckle, brac; David Kosovec, berda; Peter Kosovec, prim and brac (the two Kosovecs are cousins); and Kruno Špišic, brac and guitar. (Spisic will be in Croatia during the American Folk Festival, and Ryan Werner will be filling in for him.)
Otrov began to evolve when Dimter and Dreher joined in 2003, when Peter Kosovec and Dimter began writing original songs for the band.
For the next three years, Otrov immersed themselves in the tamburica tradition, performing at the acclaimed Zlatne Žice Slavonije festival in Požega, Croatia, from 2003 to 2005, while playing at festivals and private functions in the United States. (That included stints at the National Folk Festivals held in Butte, Mont., and Richmond, Va.)
The band now has three albums, the first composed of cover songs and the next two of originals.
The members of Otrov are busy with other group and solo projects, as well. This cross-fertilization has been beneficial for the band, Peter Kosovec said.
“Marko plays brac, but we also incorporate his violin for a variety of sound,” he explained. “David and myself are in the Gypsy Strings, so we bring some of that flavor into Otrov. Kruno’s skilled on Gypsy jazz guitar, so we incorporate that alongside the tamburica instruments.”
With its musicians based in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Chicago, and David Kosovec about to move to Toronto, Otrov is a logistical challenge.
“Most of us are parents now, so it’s hard to find time to practice,” Peter Kosovec admitted. “We’re playing fewer gigs now, but they’re generally for larger audiences.”
This includes the 11th American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront, Otrov’s first trip into the Northeast.
“I’ve never been to Maine, but I’m very excited to go,” Peter Kosovec said. “My wife comes from Connecticut and has told me how beautiful it is up there.”