Is Zerg zweird ? [NB beat, [here] Magazine, January 31, 2008]
By Nelson Hansen

There’s nothing in New Brunswick like Zwerg.

Zwerg may actually be a creature unique to this planet.

Zwerg is the creation of Moncton musician Jason Betts. A talented songwriter, Betts adopted the nom de plume Eldon Thiele and created his band/performance piece/alter ego Zwerg. Equal parts creativity and whimsy, Zwerg does what few, if any artists in our region strive to do and that is to create a total experience that is to say the least…unique.

Currently working on his third full-length record, last summer’s Into the 4th Dimension, Zwerg (the person and the band) has made live appearances on MySpace and YouTube to form a steadily growing fan base. Musically Thiele (or Betts, or Zwerg) creates a romantic euro-pop sound. The songs range from catchy pop to ethereal ballads. From the listener’s standpoint, one of the more compelling attributes to the record is some very sophisticated production value. Complex arrangements and well thought out melodies help boy Thiele’s whispy and gentle vocals over the mix. If you locked Rufus Wainwright, Kate Bush, and Duran Duran (pre Rio) into a medieval castle with a recording studio, there’s a good chance they’d emerge with an album that sounds something like Zwerg. Or Thiele. Or Betts.

In our region’s music scene Zwerg are sonically unique. Visually, the band is in a league of its own. With a look that suggests Abba weekending at the Renaissance Fair, Zwerg stands out as a project that wants to do something different. It can safely be said they’ve succeeded in attaining that goal. I could try to describe the group’s visual presentation but it would be best to suggest putting the word Zwerg in a search engine and taking it from there. You’ll find a touch of medieval, a dash of Scandinavian milkmaid with a pinch of Flock of Seagulls thrown in for good measure. To the cynical it may seem a bit much, but if one was willing to open the mind a bit Zwerg will do what good entertainment is capable of. And that’s to make one forget about the “real world” for a while and allow us to be transported into the artist’s realm to be whisked away for the duration of a song, disc or concert.

Betts/Thiele/Zwerg explains the origins of this space oddity of a music project. “When I was 18 I was studying German in school and since I was always creating music I wanted to find a suitable moniker for what I do. So I started looking up words in a German/English dictionary and I liked the look of Zwerg. When I read what Zwerg meant I immediately fell in love with it.” Just how does “Zwerg” translate? Is it a monster? A mountain? An unstoppable force of nature?

“It’s a dwarf,” Thiele explains. “But what I love about it is that most of us see dwarves as little, vulnerable creatures when in fact they have such strong constitutions, courage and charisma. They’re like an underdog and I’ve always felt that way too so I think I found a great name for what I do.” Having been a musician since a very young age, Betts/Thiele/Zwerg toured the region as a young boy with his family’s gospel music group. The group recorded an album of their favourite songs and were a hit with the region’s gospel music community. But Thiele always felt like something of an outsider. He says he “felt like a square peg in a round hole” to the point where he tried to conform and be like everybody else just to avoid feeling so different.

“It was hard,” he says. “I convinced my parents to let me quit music so I could play hockey. It turns out I was a terrible hockey player, but I just wanted to not feel different anymore. Eventually I became comfortable in my own skin and I’ve been able to embrace the fact that I’m different. I had fought it all my life and when I learned to let that go the doors of creativity swung wide open for me. Now I’m proud of the freak God made me.”

Constantly in one form of costume or another, Zwerg makes his shows an event. Mixing in original music with re-worked renditions of ‘80s cover tunes audiences rarely know what to expect from him.

This unique presentation is winning over fans. Over the course of our interview for this week’s issue, Jessica Rhaye raved about Zwerg who will be opening her upcoming show in Riverview. “He’s so unique, I think everyone should check him out,” Jessica says. “It’s totally different than anything anybody is doing around here.” Music NB executive director Jolene Keats recalls being dragged out of bed to see a 3 a.m. show at Halifax mega-club the Palace to witness an ECMA showcase.

“My friend was trying to get me out of bed and there was no way I was going to the Palace at that hour, I was exhausted. But I went anyway. I couldn’t believe what I saw. He’s such a freak and I love him for that! Seriously, you can print that!” Zwerg has been able to muster up musicians to help complete his records and music videos but live shows are quite another thing. He tells [here] that despite having three full-length CDs available he’s yet to play with a full band and admits that he thinks his vision may be preventing musicians from joining the fold.

“I’ve always had trouble finding people to play with and I seriously think it’s the clothes. What I’m looking for may be too “out there” for a lot of people around here.” Did he say “out there”?

When discussing work for an upcoming album Zwerg reveals that when he writes a song he’s actually thinking about an entire presentation. As soon as the conversation shifts, Zwerg’s speech picks up pace, he darts from topic to topic and sentences collide with one another.

“I’m a very visual person. When I write music I see it in my head. Different songs are like different colours. My Mom’s like that too. She’s an art teacher and she sees music as a ball. Because of working with tracks and sheet music, I see music in a linear form. When I write I can already see the artwork for the record. I can see the colour schemes.” In fact says he’s already seeing the colours of an upcoming record he’s producing in Saint John at the Atlantica Centre for the Arts with release expected later this year.

“This new one will be a shift for me. I’m doing something that goes to the roots of Maritime music. This is going to be more organic, there will be lots of greens.” Musically or visually? “Both!”

By virtue of the Internet, Betts/Thiele/Zwerg has found fans across the globe in places like Finland, Germany, England and Croatia. He notes that he feels his strange brew of music and visual would find success in Japan where anything eccentric is generally accepted as cool. In the near future Zwerg will be playing the Discovery Stage at the East Coast Music Awards in Fredericton as well as a show in Riverview with Jessica Rhaye. After that he intends to finish his upcoming “green” record and continue to let his freak flag fly. He leaves us with this final nugget.

“Who cares if you’re a hunchback, just throw some glitter on it and go out dancing!” –h.