Hvel, Árstíðir’s latest release, is available from March 6, but the band started promoting it live last autumn. That is when Daniel Auðunsson, Gunnar Már Jakobsson, Ragnar Ólafsson i Karl Pestka agreed to tell us a little bit about the album, touring and musical recommendations.
Authors: Klementyna Dec i Anna Jankowska-Dzik. Photos: Stefanie Oepen (used by permission).
You are currently touring Germany, promoting your upcoming album Hvel. What can we expect from the new material? How is it different your previous efforts?
Ragnar Ólafsson: I think the key word is “new”. The new material really has a new sound, new feeling to it. Since the last summer we became a smaller band, so we had to redefine the ways we create music. And we used that to our advantage in the studio. We tried new ways of recording our music. So I think the new material is going to sound a little bit like new Árstíðir.
Gunnar Már Jakobsson: Arranging will be a little different, we changed some things. Two guys are playing new instruments on this album – it’s been an interesting process. Hopefully people will be a little surprised, but they will also hear old elements that they liked in Árstíðir.
Can you tell us about you individual contributions to the album? What did the process look like, did you write everything together?
Karl Pestka: The songwriting is very similar to what we always do, it’s very democratic. Each person came with 4 to 10 sketches and we would find and arrange the ones that everybody were attracted to the most. It usually starts in the form of piano, guitar or electronic music plus voice. And then the rest of us would go: I think we need to add three voices to this harmony. The arranging falls on different people in different ways. Daniel, Gunnar and Ragnar are masters of finding good voicings, I get all the string work. Ragnar and I both worked on piano parts together, it was really quite nice. I’d say things are distributed pretty evenly.
And what do you find most challenging while working on new material?
GMJ: It’s always a challenge to be original and to do something different than before. We’ve made two albums already. It’s a challenge to produce something that is still Árstíðir, but brings something new to the table.
The way you decided to fund Hvel is a bit unusual. Can you tell us about your crowdsourcing experience?
RÓ: It was a very good one. There are many online forums where you can crowdsource. We used Kickstarter, which is very big in America, and funnily enough, most of our backers were from the US, so not only did we fund the album, but we also gained some new fans.
So is this where you are going next?
RÓ: We’re sort of exploring all directions, east, west, south.
GMJ: We have some plans, but nothing in hand yet. Hopefully we get to see a lot of new places next year. [Árstíðir has since announced their American tour for the summer 2015 – KD]
That’s what we are hoping for, too. How is the tour going so far?
Daniel Auðunsson: In many of these places we played two or three times already – then the crowd expands. And it takes time to build up a group of people that knows about you. So I’ll say – all along it’s going really well.
Which songs do you like to play in particular – do you have any favourites?
GMJ: There’s a song called Nú gleymist ég which we usually play at the end of our set. I personally like that one, because I get to sing a bit louder, I get to scream a little bit. So I guess I’m always looking forward to it a little.
RÓ: For me it’s Shades. It’s been on every setlist since we started playing it three years ago, we hardly do shows without Shades, but every time I get this excitement… If I was a soldier I would be ready for battle, but I’m a musician, so I go into “let’s do this!” mode – that’s nice.
KP: In our new set, every time I look forward to Shine, because everyone gets to play hard and loud. It’s still really raw, we still need to tighten up few things and I need to tweak the strings, but for me it’s the most fun to play.
Karl, you’re an adopted Icelander. Is Iceland home?
KP: Yes, definitely. I miss my parents and my friends in Michigan, but everything I want, I can find in Iceland (except for cheap organic peanut butter): beautiful nature, green energy, good community feeling, places where kids run around all hours of the night and feel safe. You feel like if not a famous than at least a useful musician in Iceland. It’s great.
As a band you’re spending a lot of time on very limited space. Do you have any house rules – or bus rules – to make life on the road easier?
GMJ: Musicians and artists in general are colourful characters with a lot of preferences. Being on tour means that you have to be more sensitive to your surroundings and respect the fellow man. Even if you don’t always agree, you just learn slowly how to back out some times and give space. We’ve known each other and we’ve been doing this for a long time now. I think we’re getting better at it. It is not always easy, but I think it’s like this in every band.
Apart from touring, where do you see yourselves as a band in 5 years for example?
RÓ: In five years, I’d like us to be just about to be releasing our 5th album. I’d like to be able to support myself from Árstíðir. We’ve had this band for six years now. It’s like starting a business – first you don’t make any money, you’re just paying from your own pockets. It would be cool if in five years we could have a balance, economically, so we can tour, and tour more, and make our music. Especially if we could travel to Japan.
We know you as musicians, but what do you do when you’re not playing?
DA: All of us are doing something on the side, whether it’s music or working a regular job. We all went through university and all of us are doing something at the moment, in a sort of in-between state, but the dream is in the end to do this and only this. Tours are really difficult, so it’d be really nice, for a change, to go home and rest instead of going back to a day job.
GMJ: To catch up for all the missed time on tour. So that’s what we wish for you in the nearest future.
Onto some trivia questions: if you had power to make people listen to one artist, who would it be?
KP: My personal choice is Merzbow. He’s one of the founding fathers of noise, he’s made over a 100 albums. I know I’m very alone in this choice – I find it out whenever it ends up accidentally on my iPod shuffle in the car… unfortunately, I definitely do not have the power to make people listen to noise music. But I think it’s really liberating. Just like serial and twelve-tone music allowed people to write better harmony music, because they felt sort of free, noise allows you to accept more chaos and accidental happy things in your nice, tonal music. You listen to more environmental sounds, like “oh, that door creaking has a nice melody”. Noise is life.
DA: A friend of mine called Myrra Rós. I think she’s a really good musician who is not getting enough recognition.
RÓ: Last year we were fortunate enough to tour with my favourite band, Pain of Salvation. They come from the progressive rock direction, but they’ve done various different albums. If people haven’t heard them, they deserve a listen.
GMJ: On the same tour, we were performing with a super talented singer called Anneke van Giersbergen. She’s probably quite well known, but in Iceland people don’t know about her. She’s one of the most talented singers I’ve ever had the fortune of meeting and hearing and performing with, and she’s absolutely magic when she sings. Hopefully we will work more with her in the future, so I really think people should check her out.
You’ve been to Poland – what associations with our country do you have?
RÓ: The first time we went to Cracow. We stayed in a very nice hostel in the old city, the Jewish part. We came in the afternoon, it was sunny, we just threw the bags in and went out to a café on the street. The spirit of the city was so rich, the culture was just dripping from the walls. Actually, I’d like to spend more time in Cracow, and go there for vacation some time. Read books, write poems, get some inspiration.
GMJ: It was the first time ever we played in Poland and in Cracow. We had no idea what to expect. We played at the National Radio show, which was free, but there were 300–400 people. And it went great. After the show we went outside and the crowd just surrounded us. It was such a weird experience to come for the first time to a country and discover that people actually knew who we were, and already had been listening to our songs. A girl even came up to me, told me she played cello and asked for cello parts from our songs, and I thought: wow! This is really happening! So it was a great experience.
Don’t you ever get an urge to play something in a completely different genre. If so, what would it be?
RÓ: Back in Iceland I play in other bands. They’re very different: extremely heavy metal, or just a weird kind of rock. So it’s nice to get that sort of ventilation sometimes – for me at least.
KP: I’ll double down on that. I used to play in a prog-rock band in high school and I really miss it. Sometimes I get to work with Ragnar on Momentum. It’s a sort of sludge/psychedelic metal project. Opposite from everything Árstíðir is. It’s really nice just to scratch some other itches.
RÓ: It’s funny you mention that band, because four members of Árstíðir played on their last album. In Iceland it’s very easy for musicians to branch out.
KP: It’s expected and you don’t have to go very far.
GMJ: People are almost surprised if you’re only in one band. Like, wait… what? I think we all have other projects now, so we all get a chance to do something different.
DA: I would like to be in an electronic band. And I’m going to do it in the nearest future.
Your language is kind of cryptic, but if you could teach us one useful Icelandic word or phrase…
RÓ: Góðan daginn – it means „good day”, a greeting.
GMJ: Já já is almost like the Italian alorra, something like well, or moving on. Even if I want to tell the guys: OK, stop, we need to get going. You can use it for so many different things, it depends on how you say it, what tone you use.
DA: I’ll say the most useful one is einn bjór – „one beer”.
KP: Another super useful one: sæll is how you greet a man in Iceland, or sæl if it’s a woman. It means “bliss”, or “be happy”.
DA: It’s a usual greeting to a person that you know really well.
KP: Someone you would generally wish well.
GMJ: Apart from sæll, we also use blessaður a lot, which is kind of funny, because there are all these religious references in Icelandic, and although the country itself is not that religious, we still use them in our common language. Blessaður means “blessed” and that’s probably as frequently used as sæll, so when I meet these guys I say blessaður and I don’t even think that I’m saying „blessed be you”.
Thank you so much for your time and insight, we hope to see you in Poland very soon.
Árstíðir interview by Klementyna Dec i Anna Jankowska-Dzik.
Photos: Stefanie Oepen (used by permission)