Interview with Oyama: we like cats and we channel their energy into the music we write

There are five of them and they are in their 20s. Daily, those young people work with kids and teenagers but also spend their free time together on rehearsals, composing a new material. Let me introduce you Oyama – the young wolves of Icelandic music. They fit almost perfect into a genre gap on a local music scene with their passion for shoegaze. The band was formed over a year ago and its history has rolled more dynamically since Iceland Airwaves festival last year. The Grapevine Magazine reported that it was one of seven bands, which should be necesarilly catched at the festival. There were several occasions due to their shows at every Iceland Airwaves night.

In the beginning I was quite sceptical about their career – of course, they are good because all bandmembers are experienced musicians. I caught myself a few times humming some of their songs and it turned out that Shade is an obligatory video, when I have a kind of cat’s evening. No way that you will find some Icelandic element in their sound – that’s very good! But still something was missing for me, a thing that will definitely hit me inside and could make me tell everyone: listen to this, some day they will record something really great!. (Un)Fortunately (depends on your perspective) I found it! Now I can tell you honestly, that whoever was the author of the recommendation in Reykjavík Grapevine, was right in 100%. I felt their energy on stage. Those multi-layered guitar’s parts, hypnotising and dreamy vocals and dynamic rhytm section, which appears in a first row of sound in live performances. When the first time I saw them playing The Garden, they moved me. Now I understand why Projekta label from London wanted to work with this band after Iceland Airwaves festival.

Oyama released only one EP called I Wanna, which was out in January. It contains 6 songs. A new year brought the band time for writing a new material. So it seems like those musicians won’t allow to classify their sound clearly as shoegaze and they turn to psychedelic melodies, however you can still hear 90s guitar layers in Oyama music. The new material appears on shows and I need to say that there’s a positive feedback. So it’s worth to wait for the next release, because it will sound interesting. The band consists of musicians, who aren´t freshmen on music scene. I have an impression that it is really hard to find in Iceland debutants in literally meaning of this word. Even at Músíktilraunir, because almost everyone played with someone else in the past. So connections with Oyama have bands like Útidúr, Sudden Weather Change, The Fist Fokkers, Just Another Snake Cult or We Painted The Walls, but it’s not everything yet. A week before Oyama gig in London I met three members of the band – guitarist and vocalist Úlfur Alexander Einarsson, vocalist, synths player and author of cover art and Oyama’s graphic designer Júlía Hermannsdóttir and guitarist Kári Einarsson, who also recorded, mixed and mastered I Wanna EP.

Why did you come up with a band name Oyama?
Úlfur
: It was quite incidental. Our former bass player came up with it, Steinunn Harðardóttir, because we needed a name. And then she left the band and the name stuck with us and we didn’t decide to keep it until Júlía came into the band…
Júlía: Well, you didn‘t tell me.
Úlfur: Yeah, we hadn‘t decided but when Júlía…
Kári: I thought you were the only one who was not so up for the name. I always have been up for it.
Úlfur: And Júlía was studying Japanese…
Júlía: I’m the only one in the band, who speaks sign Japanese so I was like why did you guys take this name? [laughs] because it means all of these things and I´m wondering if you knew it or it was a coincidence.
Úlfur: Yes, then she told us that it means a respectful mountain or a man playing a woman…
Júlía: It doesn’t mean a respectful mountain. It just means a mountain but in a respectful way cause there’s a different level of language. But yeah, it means a mountain or a male actor in Kabuki theater, who plays only women rules so he dresses like a drag queen and he was a specialist in playing women on Kabuki stage.
Úlfur: And we like what it meant so we stuck with the name.

You are experienced musicians and last year your bass player released an album with Sudden Weather Change so it’s quite surprising for me that you formed the band a year ago because you were quite busy then.
Úlfur
: Yeah, well, like over a year ago I realised that I had been playing in bands for like 3 or 4 years but no band, I was in, played my favourite kind of music which is like this 90s slow indie alternative rock so I just got people that I knew in the scene to play with me and that’s how Oyama was born. And we all like this kind of music and wanted to try and form a band that makes this genre and all went up pretty well so we stuck with it.
So you all like 90s music and you grew up in 90s. So what are your favourite things in Iceland from 90s?
Úlfur
: It’s a good question. I actually don’t listen that much to Icelandic music.
But not only in music, also other things, like some cult things.
Kári
: Hubba Bubba is really nice.
Júlía: What?
Kári: Hubba Bubba. It’s a kind of nice thing.
Júlía: I think that what I remember the most clearly is the beginning of the Internet. Nobody had the Internet at home but you go to the library like every day to look at really questionable things on the Internet like apple or pear. My first Internet footprint was writing in the Lion King guestbook in 1997. I really love the Lion King. I don’t know, that’s what I remember the best.
Úlfur: I think the 90s for us is a time of innocence and discovering things so we connect to it with a powerful way.

Let’s talk about Iceland Airwaves. Have you ever played so many gigs with your other projects like you did with Oyama last year?
Úlfur
: No. This was the first time that I and we have played with a band every night of the festival. It came out very well. It was surprisingly good move to play every night.
Especially that after Iceland Airwaves you signed the contract with Projekta label. Do you know how many times they saw you on stage?
Úlfur
: Twice, I think..
Júlía: Yes, twice.
Úlfur: Yes, it was quite fortunate.

Now it’s totally understandable for me why you joined the label in only 6 months of your existence. But there was a kind of surprise on Icelandic music scene called Oyama and you hadn’t played abroad then yet so no one actually knew who you are. Are you ready for conquering the world?
Júlía
: Yes.
Kári: I wouldn’t mind, you know. I’m not afraid of conquering the world. It would be nice.
Júlia: It’s a really nice surprise that people enjoy our live shows so much and they come up to us and can talk with us. It’s kind of decent to tell this because we practiced a lot. I think maybe we don´t necesarilly feel ready to it but we should probably do it anyway.
Recently you played in UK and Norway. What was the feedback there?
Úlfur
: Very good. It was kind of weird going abroad so early since like people in Iceland don’t even know who we are yet so why would people abroad know who we are. But we are just lucky that By:Larm Festival in Norway wanted us and there was some interest in UK to have us playing and we’re actually going to London in the end of April…
Júlía: In a week.
Úlfur: And to Brighton in May again to play at The Great Escape. So it’s good that there’s some interest to having us back.
It’s going to be exciting. You played a new song on gigs this month and it seems like a new material will be something totally different from I Wanna EP. Like less shoegazy and more psychedelic wall of sound…
Úlfur
: Yes, we are already heading in different directions.
Júlía: I think I have the smallest part in writing the music actually so I can’t really say a lot about it. I don’t think it’s like let’s stop doing it, I wanna stop and do a different thing. I think it’s just like continuing in a direction, which is basically let’s make something which sounds good and play what we wanna do, within a certain frame of course, but you know it’s what we’ve been doing a whole time.

Will you find some time to record something this year?
Kári
: Hopefully.
Júlía: Firstly, we have to finish writing it [laughs].

The first music connection, which comes to my mind while I’m watching what you do on stage is Sonic Youth. I really want to see you, Kári, playing your guitar with a baseball bat. You know, like Thurston Moore.
Kári
: Yeah yeah yeah, I’ll do that. Once I took off my shoes and started hitting with them my guitar. I thought it was a nice move but I’ve never done it again.
Júlía: Once you hit your guitar into Bergur’s face [Bergur Anderson, the bass player of Oyama – editorial note].
Kári: Yeah yeah yeah and he hit me back. No, he hit me first and I took revenge.
But there wasn’t blood…?
Kári
: Nooo.
Júlia: There was a bruise.

The first video of Oyama was shot for the song Shade and was premiered a month before Iceland Airwaves 2012, which was very memorable moment in the band’s history. Because of the video Tobbi, Úlfur´s cat, turned out to be a band mascot. This excellent catty model appeared even by Sóley’s side on the cover of the Reykjavík Grapevine’s November issue, which was dedicated to events during Iceland Airwaves festival. But the cat in the video and on the cover is not enough. Looking deeper into results of band‘s photo shoot it‘s possible to come to the conclusion that someone here is mad about… cats.

What can you tell me about cats in Iceland? I have a strange impression that Reykjavík is the capital of cats.
Úlfur
: Yeah, cats are pretty popular here [laughs].
Júlía: It’s weird because dogs are kind of not popular here and you would think like pets in general but there are just cats.
Úlfur: Cats just thrive really well in Reykjavík. They know, we know.
Júlía: Actually, have you heard about… I mean because it’s totally out of topic. But Freyjugata, the street which is really close to Hallgrímskirkja, the church… people say that there is an unusual amount of cats and that’s because of Nordic goddess Freyja. She rode on a wagon dragged by horde of cats so she had always cats like her servants and her friends. So maybe it has something to do with the norse mythology.
Kári: Probably not.
Júlía: Have you heard this before?
No.
Úlfur
: Even I haven´t heard this before. You’re making this up. Stop lying at the interview [laughs].
Júlía: No! It‘s true! Keep your eyes open at Freyjugata.

I asked you about cats because of Shade.
Úlfur
: Yes. Also one of our new songs is called The Cat Has Thirst and the lyric is from a perspective of a cat.
Your cat?
Úlfur
: Just a cat. Júlía has also a cat. We like cats. And we channel their energy into the music we write.
And you like recording your cats.
Úlfur
: Yeah, yeah, I actually have a pretty good camera and like 90% of what I record is just Tobbi.
He’s a perfect model. There are two layers in Shade video – Tobbi and a water. It woke up my obsession with water. Where did you record that layer?
Úlfur
: I actually recorded it at Reykjadalur. I recorded it just outside of Hveragerði.
Is it the same place where The Heavy Experience recorded their video?
Úlfur
: Yes, it’s actually the same video. I went there on a walk with Bergur and Túmi from The Heavy Experience and we recorded a lot of material. And some of it was used for The Heavy Experience video and a little part was used for Shade.

What can you tell me about a newly announced festival All Tomorrow’s Parties – as listeners and Icelanders who are hungry for foreign bands playing in Iceland.
Úlfur
: It’s 28th of June.
Kári: It’s kind of nice line-up.
Júlía: It’s really exciting but I’m just thinking like oh my God, my summer is so booked at least until August. I hope that Icelanders won’t get a festival exhaustion cause there’s been so much going on especially in the past year. It sounds like they are taking care of organising like they’re going to have movie screenings and all these small things happening around. It sounds really interesting and exciting so yeah, I’m excited to see how good it is because it’s the first time and you know, you never know.

What is your impression about Icelandic festivals? From my perspective it’s very exciting because of all Icelandic artists. But you know, you can be a little bit bored because everyone plays every festival and you have seen all the bands hundred times.
Úlfur
: For Icelanders the normal Icelandic bands are not an exciting thing to see in a festival line-up. You always want to see what good foreign band is coming. There are Icelandic bands that you don’t really care of because you can see them anyway.
Júlía: But at the same time I have never felt bored. When we were playing at Aldrei Fór Ég Suður in Ísafjörður, where were only or almost only Icelandic bands and it was real fun.
Úlfur: Sorry, I’m mainly telling about festivals where you paid to see the bands. Like ATP. ATP also seems like a tourist thing. They already have these packages for foreigners, oh, you can take a flight, stay there and blah blah blah.
Júlía: It’s barely the same with Airwaves and Sónar
Kári: But it’s in Keflavík, so it‘s kind of asking for…
Júlia: …is ATP in Keflavík? But there’s another festival like Keflavík Music Festival.
Kári: Yes, but there’s a totally different thing.
Júlia: I know it’s totally different but …
There are two festivals in one month in Keflavík.
Júlía
: Yeah, but there’s nothing there.
Úlfur: I feel like Keflavík Music Festival is more like mainstream and ATP is for the music nerds. It’s like a festival for the music nerds.
Júlía: Yeah, I know but I’m only talking about the place like why two big festivals, which are totally different, take place in Keflavík.
Kári: I think it’s a tourist thing.
Maybe they want to invite more tourists because it’s in Keflavík…
Júlía
: I’m just worried cause you know, I heard of people who think that the airport is in Reykjavík like oh I’m gonna just take a walk and walk around and oh, Reykjavík is really boring, why does everyone think it’s so cool city? and then go back to the plane and go home and tell everyone that Iceland is really boring. That’s what I’m worrying about.
It’s impossible to say that Iceland is boring.
Úlfur
: Wait, I can do it …Iceland is boring.
But you are Icelander.
Úlfur
: It was not impossible after all.

Thank you for the conversation!

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