A Second Serving – Interviews in Iceland

Far more interesting than my usual navel-gazing posts are the conversations I had with Icelandic musicians who are among the most intelligent, interesting, and entertaining people I have ever met. I left every interview with a better understanding of not only their music, but of music in general.

Back in December, I posted a list of these interviews. At the time I was still working on more, each of which, in one way or another, posed some kind of writerly challenge. Even though my mistakes are perhaps more apparent here than on the first batch, I hope you get more from these interviews than just my lessons-learned. There is some great music here.

O

Gone Postal

Gone Postal (with Svartidauði)

Gone Postal started out as teenagers who, by their own admission, played a bunch of riffs in a row and called it death metal. Over the years, they’ve grown as songwriters, adding post-rock and black metal influences. Their new blackened death sound is drenched in doomy atmosphere that I think a lot of people would like if the band ever gets around to putting out an album.

Since their guitar player is also part of Svartidauði, the gold standard of black metal in Iceland, I was also able to ask about that band. Svartidauði released a new album, Flesh Cathedral, only a couple weeks after this interview, and I can confirm their guitar player’s statement that it is “really trippy shit.”

TrippyShit

Svartidaudi

The interview itself was kind of a trip, too. Airwaves was already in full swing before I caught up with the band, and to top it off it was after their 2 am show – which means it was the middle of rúntur. Transcribing an interview with five subjects in a party setting was a professional challenge, to say the least. Read the interview here.

Kontinuum

Good thing I ran into Birgir Thorgeirsson at a show later in the week since I forgot to take pix at the interview.

Good thing I ran into Birgir Thorgeirsson (left) at a show later in the week since I forgot to take pix at the interview.

I requested an interview with Kontinuum before I even heard their music – I could tell from the review on Angry Metal Guy that it would be right up my alley. The recovering witchy goth-girl in me swoons for the moody atmosphere, but the black metal and especially the industrial elements are what keep me coming back for more. Killing Joke was the soundtrack to an entire phase of my life that I unfortunately don’t remember much about. So until it came up in the interview, I didn’t identify the tremendous impact of Killing Joke amidst the many other, sometimes unexpected, influences on this album. Also, great vocals; gloomy cleans that land somewhere between Peter Steele and Peter Murphy are supplemented with occasional spine-tingling lupine howls – but therein lay the problem.

Press photo taken by the other guy in the photo above.

Press photo taken by the other guy in the first photo.

No Clean Singing focuses on extreme metal. Three Imaginary Girls cover indie and punk bands that are just as heavy as Kontinuum, but they don’t cover metal. So I split the interview. Selective cutting, without rearranging or adding anything, resulted in two separate interviews; one focused on the band’s black metal history and the other on the album’s indie influences. It was a great writing exercise, and lots of fun. But my editors both got a piece that didn’t quite fit their websites, and I didn’t do the band any branding favors. Music Birgir mentioned in the interview led me to a whole subgenre of ambient black metal (which, it turns out, I like a lot better than other kinds). In retrospect, I should have kept the interview intact and found a single outlet for the piece. I could have used a broad platform site like CultureMob, or found a site whose readers would be interested in something labeled “ambient black metal.” Metal interview here. Indie interview here. Also, I forgot to take pictures.

Skálmöld

OI won’t talk about their music here, because I want you to read the interview, and the review I wrote of their album. For this post, I’ll just talk about what I learned.

It pains me to confess; after I boarded my plane in SeaTac, and before I inserted the sim card in my European smart phone, Skálmöld confirmed our interview the following Sunday. Somehow, I didn’t see the email until three weeks after I got home.

I only ended up getting an interview at all because the guys from Skálmöld are every bit as friendly and down-to-earth as everyone in Iceland told me they were, and granted an email interview. For about a week, in the most fun exchange I’ve ever had on email, I got to dig into the details of Icelandic poetry and music history with their bass player as my personal tutor.

Lessons learned: Check your spam folder every day. When checking email, always scroll all the way down to the old messages.

Sólstafir

OAlthough they are probably sick of hearing this, if Sigur Rós played heavy metal, they would be Sólstafir. And you all are probably sick of hearing about how much I love this band, how they are one of the reasons I went to Iceland in the first place, and how I will never be the same after hearing them play. Fortunately, I got to interview their drummer before that show, or I would never have had the nerve to do the interview.

Guðmundur was such a friendly and easy-going guy, though, that instead of being awestruck, I found myself asking for camera advice (he’s a trained photographer). But easy-going is not always easy interviewing, and from a professional standpoint, this one went a little sideways. Worse, it was a rant against vegetarians and in favor of eating whale meat! As a 20-year vegetarian environmentalist, I cringe to think that someone might eat whale because of something I wrote.

Hey kids, check it out! This super-cool rock star that thinks whale meat is awesome. He makes some pretty good points, too, and I’m not even going to argue because I’m trying be a neutral journalist who doesn’t piss off my interviews with off-topic arguments.

But you know – whatever. He was funny and interesting, and gave good answers about the band. He was whip smart and would have been tough to argue with if I had decided to engage on whaling. (I wouldn’t anyway, since I agree with him about not telling other people what to eat.)

O

Actually, I wouldn’t do anything differently about that interview. It was fun and I loved every minute of it. Lesson learned: Just roll with it.

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “A Second Serving – Interviews in Iceland

  1. I had a conversation with Jonsí at Airwaves in 2006. I didn’t know who he was at first (I had seen Sigur Rós play previously, but I was in the balcony and hadn’t yet seen any pictures of the group – he approached me), but he immediately made an impression on me with his intelligence and wide range of interests. I’ve talked to other Icelandic musicians and have been similarly impressed. I think that Icelandic culture really nurtures aspiring artists of all types. The Halldór Laxness book The Fish Can Sing (1957) has a chapter which contains a very prescient discussion of the reality of being an Icelander going out and performing on the world stage.

    • What a great story! I hope that in six years some of the talented people I met are so successful that it’s hard to imagine just bumping into them at Airwaves. (Also interesting that your not recognizing him dates the story. Social media has really changed our expectations. I took hundreds of concert photos at Airwaves this year, but I don’t think I would have recognized any of the bands I “saw” in college if I’d run into them later.) I agree that Icelandic culture seems to nurture art. Art seems to be so much more integral to the Icelandic experience – a stark contrast to the elitist view often held here in the States. I’ll have to add The Fish Can Sing to my rapidly growing to-read list. Have you read any Sjón? There was an Icelandic literature exhibit at our local Nordic Heritage Museum, and his bio sounded very interesting, but I haven’t tracked down any of his books yet.

      • Another factor in not recognizing Jonsí was that Sigur Rós never put their pictures on their albums!

        Re: Fish: A great, great book and much easier to get into than some of the other work by Laxness. Elliot Bay Bookstore might have it. Reviews of all of his novels which are available in English:

        http://laxnessintranslation.blogspot.com/

        Sjón: I’ve read both The Blue Fox and From the Mouth of the Whale. A most intriguing author/poet, and, of course, Bachelorette and Oceania!

        http://flippistarchives.blogspot.com/2012/02/from-mouth-of-whale.html

        I’ve been to the Nordic Heritage Museum as well, what a great place:

        http://flippistarchives.blogspot.com/2011/11/nordic-fashion-bash.html

        I’m really enjoying your Icelandic music stories- they make me want to make reservations for Airwaves 2013!

        (forgive me for so many links but my enthusiasm has no bounds when it comes to Icelandic culture!)

      • Thank you for your enthusiastic linkage! I should have thought of Elliott Bay. It used to be a block from my office, and I spent many lunch hours (and paychecks) there, but I stopped going when they moved to Capitol Hill. How cool that you’ve been to our Nordic Heritage Museum. I missed the fashion exhibit you saw, but I think I recognized some of the shoes in your photo from a shop just off Laugavegur! And thank you – I hope you do make it to Airwaves 13. You can tell me what I’m missing while I’m stuck at home catching up on Laxness and Sjón. 🙂

  2. Pingback: 2013 Crooked Road in Review | gemma D. alexander

  3. Pingback: April Word Count Showers | gemma D. alexander

  4. Pingback: Summer Work | gemma D. alexander

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s