Iceland’s Vök will be in town for a show at the Knitting Factory tomorrow night as part of this year’s Taste of Iceland festival, which is V. EXCITING! It’s a free gig, so obviously RSVP to get on that list and check the band out live – they’ve got a couple of new tunes that they’ll be playing, which should be a real treat!
I was able to catch up with Einar Hrafn Stefánsson earlier this week to talk about what’s new with the band, as well as how Iceland has influenced their sound – could they have formed the same project had they grown up elsewhere? Probably not, but you’ll have to read on to find out why!
Make sure to RSVP to the show tomorrow night, yeah? In the meantime, internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation RIGHT NOW:
So you’ve been working on some new material. Have you been working out how to play them live? And will be be hearing any of them at Taste of Iceland?
Fortunately most of the songs are…I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s less electronic. We played a lot of the stuff on the tracks, and I think for the live element it’s going to be great; we can actually replicated a lot of those elements live. And we’ve already started playing a few of those live, so yes, you’ll be hearing some of those on Saturday at the Knitting Factory. There are still electronic elements, but we have a lot of organic instruments and an organic feel to the songs.
What’s your process as a band for songwriting? Are there specific responsibilities that each person has kind of claimed, or does it tend to change depending on who is inspired by what and when?
Normally it starts off with Margrét. She makes a beat, like a melody, maybe has a hook or something for a verse in the chorus, and oftentimes these demos are maybe a minute to a minute and a half long. When we start working on a song, we’ll take one of those skeletons and make a structure together; we write lyrics together and find a theme for every song. For this album, we really focused on making individual themes for each song. So each one really has its own kind of character, and its own motif. Overall, it has a really nice flow. We talk about different themes in each track, so you get a lot of variety.
And how often do you guys see each other? Is it every day? Or do you plan to come together at very specific times to accommodate schedules?
It really depends on what’s happening. Margrét and I spent a lot of times together this summer writing songs, recording and stuff like that, but now that we’ve finished I’m doing the mixing, so I don’t see them that much. Or, at least as often as during the initial process. We of course come together for rehearsals, and grab a coffee every now and then, so we do see each other quite a lot. There’s always a moment after tours, though, where we tend not to see each other for a little while. You know, after spending weeks together in a car. [Laughs]
Probably healthy! And you guys won a big award at the Icelandic Music Awards in the spring, yeah? Did you each get your own trophy? Or was there just one presented?
Yeah, we just got one. Margrét has it in her home studio.
Amazing. No fighting over who would get to keep it?
No, no. Margrét deserves all of the awards. [Laughs]
Well it seems like you guys have a pretty laid back dynamic, but that also seems to be the overall music scene vibe in Iceland, anyway, right? Everyone just seems super supportive of one another! That must be nice, I’d imagine.
Yeah, it’s a really unique music scene here, and I love being a part of it. It has a really good vibe to it, and it’s kind of like a big family. Of course you have egos, but they’re not destructively big. Overall, people don’t really take themselves too seriously, which is a nice thing. Most of the people making music in Iceland are doing it in combination with something else, because it’s difficult to make a living as an artist in Iceland. And I think that makes way for a good balance in a lot of people’s lives, where they might have a day job or something, and then they’re doing music in their free time. I don’t know, it doesn’t feel very dominated by the idea of money or fame or success or anything like that. It’s got a very small town feel, and the music scene is very close. Everybody’s kind of just in the dirt together.
Right. And certainly the music scene has played a part in the boost in tourism in recent years, alongside the incredible landscape of Iceland, but how do people feel about this influx? Clearly it’s an essential part of the economy, but is there any level of worry or resentment that comes with heavy tourism? Maybe especially from an environmental standpoint?
I love the fact that foreigners are coming and visiting this country. The one thing that I’m sad about is that I feel like the infrastructure of the industry could be a lot better. And I think that’s just because there was such an explosion in tourism that people haven’t really been able to keep up. It does feel to a certain extent like the Gold Rush in the US. There are a lot of opportunists in the tourism industry that are using this influx of tourists coming to Iceland as a way to kind of get rich quick. It’s a sad thing. There are some business that are just completely taking advantage of the growth of travelers, charging insane prices for really basic products or services. Those are the things that concern me, but I do love the fact that people are coming and seeing the country and traveling around, getting to know the culture. Of course there are environmental concerns, but I think for the most part I’ve found that most of the tourists I’ve met are really friendly and respectful.
Is there anything specific about living in Iceland, being from Iceland, that has influenced the way you guys make music, or the style of your music? Could this same band have formed in, say, Australia, for example?
I would love to hear the Australian version of Vök, now that you’ve brought it up. [Laughs] But I think the biggest impact on us as artists is probably the long winters, and the darkness and the extreme temperatures, in the sense that during a large portion of the year it’s not really a great country to be outside. You’re kind of forced to be inside and working on something, getting a creative output so you don’t go crazy during this time. We have a term in Iceland, which is like “seasonal depression” – I think that’s the direct translation – and I think nine out of ten people have it during the winter, just from the lack of sunlight and everything. So you get very depressed during this time, and it’s great to have something to work on. And I think that’s the primary reason. If Iceland was just one massive beach resort, I think people would probably get less done; they’d just want to spend time at the beach.
Feature photo by Sigga Ella