THERE MUST BE SOMETHING IN THE WATER: ICELAND HAS A POPULATION OF LESS THAN HALF A MILLION, YET IT HAS PRODUCED SOME OF THE MOST INTERESTING ARTISTS OF THE LAST FEW DECADES.
Björk, Sigur Rós, Múm and Ólafur Arnalds are long established world music names – and it seems a new wave is rising from this tiny country…
Of Monsters And Men, Ásgeir and trio Samaris – pictured, l-to-r; Þórður (Doddi) Kári Steinþórsson (electronics), Jófríður Ákadóttir (vocals) and Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir (clarinet) – share little in terms of sound, but each reinforces the idea that their homeland is the place to be this year. An eponymous Samaris album will be out through One Little Indian on July 29th, collating the trio’s two previous EPs and adding a clutch of new remixes, including for the outstanding GÓÐA TUNGL – which, itself, is issued as a three-track single next week. In advance, singer Jófríður spoke to The Mouth Magazine.
A LITTLE BIT OF BACKGROUND – WHERE DID SAMARIS BEGIN?
Áslaug and I first met in music school. Doddi and Áslaug were together in elementary school for many years. Áslaug and I brought the idea of making a group up to Doddi, who was always into programming beats and producing songs… and he was totally up for it. We had just wanted to try something creative together – and so it was an amazingly pleasant surprise how well we fitted together as Samaris.
IN A RECENT MENTION FOR GÓÐA TUNGL WE DESCRIBED YOU AS “PLAYING IN THE DIALLED-DOWN SPACES BETWEEN SIGUR ROS AND BJÖRK”…
That is really flattering – thank you!
… BUT WHAT OTHER MUSIC FEEDS INTO WHAT YOU DO?
I listen to Joni Mitchell a lot – and Enya… But as a band, when we are driving together in a car we listen to this and this and this.
ALTHOUGH THE MUSIC YOU MAKE AS SAMARIS FEELS QUITE SPARSE, THERE’S ALSO SOMETHING RATHER EXPANSIVE ABOUT IT…
Our music can be played in big venues with lots of lights. At the same time it can be played in really small venues, with less people and more intimacy. Both work very well – and that’s probably because of the electronics.
IS IT A CLICHÉ TO SAY THAT THE MOOD OF WHAT YOU DO DESCRIBES THE LANDSCAPES OF ICELAND?
I think it’s a cliché that was created by Björk and Sigur Rós. But maybe there is some truth in it that I’m refusing to see.
YOUR MUSIC FEELS CONTEMPORARY BUT HAS AN ANCIENT QUALITY…
We use old Icelandic poetry as lyrics – and therefore the words and melodies become like folk songs in a way. It’s a fun concept to work with.
YOUR LYRICS ARE OLD ICELANDIC POETRY?
Yes. We like Steingrímur Thorsteinsson, Páll Ólafsson, Guðfinna Jónsdóttir… And more.
BECAUSE YOU SING IN ICELANDIC, IS IT A SURPRISE HOW WELL YOU’RE RECEIVED IN OTHER COUNTRIES?
Definitely. The singing becomes more like one of the instruments played, and it means a lot to me that people can listen to it without getting bored of not understanding the meaning.
DESPITE THE LANGUAGE BARRIER THING, THERE’S A SADNESS AND A BEAUTY IN THE MUSIC OF SAMARIS WHICH EVERYONE CAN RELATE TO…
… I like that mixture a lot. Sadness is incredibly inspiring and contains a lot of beauty. We usually prefer electronic music in minor keys, so the melancholy might derive from that.
GÓÐA TUNGL IS BEAUTIFUL – BUT WHAT IS IT ABOUT?
It’s an ode to the moon – how you can always count on it, how it lends its light to suffering hearts, sweetly floating in the dark.
… THE VIDEO IS QUITE DARK…
To me the song is like a lullaby, or something that belongs to the night. The video is about what people do when they can’t fall asleep and I think it fits perfectly.
THE NEW UK ALBUM IS A COLLECTION OF YOUR EP RELEASES SO FAR… A NICE INTRODUCTION, BUT I GUESS IN ONE WAY IT’S NOT REALLY A FULL DEBUT?
We have already recorded a full length album that has only yet to be mixed and mastered. I feel like those EPs are our babies and so I’m just really happy that they are being released properly and available in stores.
SO THE ‘ACTUAL’ FULL LENGTH ALBUM HAS ALREADY BEEN RECORDED… BUT DO YOU WORK QUICKLY, HAVE YOU BEGUN WRITING NEW MATERIAL?
We work so slowly in the summer that we haven’t written anything for a while, but as soon as it gets darker in Reykjavík again we will become much more productive. In October Áslaug will travel to Asia for three months – so Doddi and I will get busy writing new material for us to perform when we are united again early next year…
TELL US THREE SECRETS ABOUT THE ALBUM…
First; I thought the chords in VILTU VITRAST were horrible when I first heard them… Then; KÆLAN MIKLA is a character from the Moomin elves stories – the song is about horribly cold weather, but that it always gets better at some point… And; the song SÓLHVÖRF II consists almost solely of clarinet samples.
ÁSLAUG PLAYS CLARINET – QUITE AN UNUSUAL INSTRUMENT TO PUT INTO THE MIX WITH PROGRAMMED BEATS…
It’s a total misunderstanding that clarinet only fits jolly Dixieland tunes. Both Áslaug and I have played the clarinet for many years. It’s an instrument we know both inside and out. We have always been aware of how incredibly dynamic and mysterious it can be…
The album SAMARIS will be released on 29th July and is available to pre-order from One Little Indian (here). The single GÓÐA TUNGL is available on iTunes from Monday, and features the title track plus remixes by Stubborn Heart and Sei A (stream above).
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