Iceland Iceland (with apologies to New York New York)
With a tremble in her voice Ólöf Arnalds walks a narrow beam between personal and
Flirting with international recognition Ólöf Arnalds has managed to maintain a kindergarten-teacher aesthetic with her music, with her oh-so-soft voice and the sound of fingers sliding on guitar strings, it’s almost a bit too much when she asks people to sing-a-long, but there for the grace of god are a group of adults howling at her shows. Sure she toured with Iceland’s múm in her first couple of years as a musician and not to mention that Ólöf garners praise from that other sort of famous lady from the same country that goes by the name Björk. These days she’s covering Johnny Cash, being a mom, and working on her follow
up to 2007’s Við og við (Now and Then), which even though was strictly in Icelandic, received lots of praise from just about everyone who has ears.
At recent shows you’ve had sing-a-longs
and everyone is going La-La-La. Which part of the world sings-a-long with your more?
Reykjavík and New York
Your song Innundir Skinni is about being pregnant and on your first album there were songs that related back to your family. Did you ever feel that your lyrics or your choice of themes were too personal? Or have you always been of the mindset that songs don’t have to be so robotic and vague?
Well it is hard to separate your life and thereby your inspirations from what you write about, but when I have turned it into a lyric it is usually not so obvious what is being sung about. It´s can be many layers of feelings and events but the lyric itself is just like an outside layer of a much deeper thing. Maybe the trick would be not to give away what´s behind the lyrics? But then again people are curious and it's all pretty basic human stuff so I can't see what harm it could do.
You play the charango, the violin, and guitar and would it be safe to say the stroh violin? When you’re writing a song what makes you want to use the charango over the guitar? Do all the instruments have different personalities or is it the melody you’re thinking of?
It depends if the song gets created first from the melody or from the chords. It´s quite random I guess, sometimes I get lucky and figure something out on this instrument, sometimes the other.
Do people ever you give you instruments?
My fellow musicians often lend me instruments, sometimes they find their way back to the owner, sometimes they stay with me like the charango I have which actually belongs to a friend of mine, Skúli Sverrisson. I like to collect instruments and sometimes buy them when I have money. Maybe I should start putting instruments on my wish list for birthdays and Christmas? A new instrument always inspires new things like borrowed guitars and stuff, even the crappy ones.
Are you familiar with the ancient Greek philosophy that the soul lies within the diaphragm, like inside the body where our lungs are? I only ask this because your voice is so personal and I wanted to know if you think that has to do with your soul or is it just a lot of hard work?
I have to admit my ignorance and tell you that this is the first time I've heard of this. I experience singing as a very spiritual thing. It´s something that takes you over while doing it, especially when performing. I don´t experience singing as hard work, although if I've been singing for hours the voice might get tired.
Speaking of your voice being personal – why do you feel the need to record your vocals and guitar live in studio? With your guitar mic so close that you can hear fingers sliding on the string – were there any other musicians who influenced you to do that?
No it´s simply the approach that (Producer) Kjartan (Sveinsson) and I found the best for my music. Recording the guitar and voice at the same time gives kind of a whole live storytelling performance feel. I also prefer whole takes, especially for the basic tracks
What was your impression of the world outside of Reykjavík when you were growing up? I only ask this because on the song Crazy Car you’re asking your friend not to leave Iceland to move to New York. Is New York that bad?
I don´t think New York is bad at all, It´s one of my favorite places in the world. My first impression of it was a lot more relaxed than the idea I had from the movies. In Crazy Car I´m trying to have my friend to stay Iceland and move back home from America, because life is a bit more quiet and less hectic here and sometimes that can be good for a while at least. That said, Iceland can be suffocating-ly small sometimes.
What have you learned from past tours, like when you were with mum?
When I started touring with múm, I was so wet behind the ears (like we say in Icelandic) that I didn't even know what the English word "venue" meant. I learned how to go about the stage, how to survive and get around in different cities and all kinds of other stuff.
Is there a character or person that you imagine when you’re singing in English? Like your Johnny Cash cover of That Lucky Old Sun is great, so the whole time are you picturing him or do you try and make it your own?
I try to make it my own, to tell the story like it's me who is experiencing it.