In our book, being adorable, icelandic and very talented gets you pretty far. Olof Arnalds is all that and a little extra spice on top. Her debut CD Vi∂ og Vi∂, which translates to “every now and then”, is a combination of haunting vocals, nursery rhymes and timeless folk and has the ultimate Icelandic seals of approval bestowed upon it (it has been produced by Kjartan Sveinsson (keyboardist for Sigur Ros) and features BJORK on one of the songs (I guess the Icelandic musican community is very tightly knit and supportive-ed))
Olof is at IOTA tonight (how perfect is that), and to preview the show, she walks you through three of her favorite songs from Vi∂ og Vi∂. The word you’ll find yourself looking for is: beguiling. Prepare yourself to fall in love pretty damn hard:
I wrote the music to Surrender during a daylight yet foggy summers night in a deserted fjord in the Eastfjords. Later I wrote the lyric after brainstorming about womanhood with my two sisters. The lyric is quite multi-dimentional, although it revolves mostly around the interaction between the two sexes. When listening to the record during it´s mixing stage, Björk grew a particular interest in this song and quite instantly got an idea for some vocal counter-melodies which she then sung and sent to me saying I could use it or not and edit it any way that I wanted. I decided to leave her contribution unedited. The strength of her performance and the emotional generosity gave the meaning of the song the wings I wanted it to have.
I wrote the opening poem and melody when I was 19. Vinur minn means “my friend”. It´s about the mad brightness of springtime in Iceland and missing the one you love at sunset. It was just this thing I had written and I felt like I could do anything further with it. But it stuck on my brain and in spring time 2008 during a time I was was doing some brainstorm work with Shahzad I had an urge to go out for a walk because the weather was so good. We met some friends at the park and then on the way home when walking this new lalalala melody and the chords came into my mind. It basic track (which is a live take of 4 people) was recorded in the April 2009. It was me playing guitar and singing, Davíð Þór Jónsson on bass, Matthias Hemstock on drums and Róbert Reynisson playing electric guitar. The same day we had done the basic track of Ballad of a broken face, a song which didn´t make it onto the record. That one had taken at least 10 takes, a bottle of sparkling and a bunch of stop and start overs, before we had something we could use. It was the same with Vinur minn. Many takes, many stops and everyone was super tired. The heating was broken in the singer cell, and I was in my underwear dying from heat. I wanted Vinur minn to sound like the first song a band in the old days in Iceland would play after a long evening of boring speeches. I described the scenario to my fellow players to detail, all down to every course on the menu, shrimp and mayonnaise (poor guys must have been exhausted with me!). The last take, after the second bottle of sparkling was used. Later in the summer I got a group of friends and family members to come in and sing the choir, including my 1 year old son Ari who you can hear yelling in the background and my 5 year old cousin Guðrún Embla who sung her quite unique version of the song. The string players from another song from the record, Madrid and composer Daníel Bjarnason were also a part of the choir because earlier that same day we had recorded the Madrid string arrangement by Daníel. Vinur minn starts out very poetic and tender but then taps into this funny that Davíð Þór likes to call the mambo misunderstanding, which is the outcome of popular musicians in Iceland from the 50´s and onward trying to imitate music from warmer places of the world, yet creating something which is more desperately Icelandic than any lava Ive ever seen. To finalise the song in the end Davíð and I met up to record our friend Stulli, playing layers of horn that I had always imagined for the song and then we also recorded me playing my new 5 string violin/viola-in-one instrument that I´d just freshly received from the violin maker, Hans Jóhannsson, who I had build it for me and had named the particular piece “Ólöf”. I had some melodies in mind and Davíð and I arranged them as we went, playing an recording a big and old sounding yet only one “Ólöf” string section.
I wrote this song when I was pregnant and started performing it on concerts. The backing vocal melody started out as a guitar part that Benni Hemm Hemm played, when I took him me to Holland to play. It was better to have someone along for the trip, because I was in my 8th month. Then his guitar developed into something I would sing with Shahzad Ismaily, playing live at the Náttúra concert. Davíð Þór Jónsson ended up singing the backup vocals at the studio. I thought it was kind of humorous to have male backing vocals. A bit like reversing the roles of Leonard Cohen with his backup vocal girls. But Davíð sings it beautifully too. I feel kind of lucky because he doesn’t give his voice to recordings that often. I guess if you play any instrument as well as Davíð does, you want to keep something to yourself. Besides these backup vocals it’s just me Skúli Sverrisson and myself playing the basic track together all in one take. So it is the most stripped down song on the record and therefore the closest to my work on my first record, Við og við. Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdottir made a beautiful video to it that is a mix of stuff we had been recording together and also references to her old work featuring herself, so there is a bit of an interesting persona confusion, which I really like. It also has a nice reference between natural and man made surroundings which fits really well with my idea about seeing man made things as natural things and not thinking it’s a good idea to separate the two.