Published July 18, 2016
Singer-songwriter Snorri Helgason is a veteran of the Icelandic music scene. His fourth solo album ‘Vittu Til’ was recently released, with one of its singles, “Einsemd,” in heavy rotation on the national radio station. Here are Snorri’s thoughts on the album.
I remember writing this song while lounging around my hotel room with my girlfriend Saga in Ísafjörður during the Aldrei fór ég suður music festival on Easter weekend in 2015. One of my all-time favourite songwriters, Valgeir Guðjónsson, was playing the festival and we spent the afternoon listening to a lot of his stuff, mostly the the ’77 golden trilogy” ‘Sturla’ by Spilverk Þjóðanna, ‘Í bleikum náttkjólum’ by Megas & Spilverk Þjóðanna, and of course ‘Lög Unga Fólksins’ by Hrekkjusvínin.
I was lying there thinking that it is my duty to do nothing but fun stuff because I can get away with it, and this song is about that.
This is an old one. We started recording this basic track in March 2014. I remember writing it at a friend’s house in Denver, Colorado while I was there on tour in the summer of 2013 just after our last album ‘Autumn skies’ came out. Everybody had gone to sleep but I stayed up playing the guitar by his pool. When I came back to Iceland and played the song for Gummi he programmed the drum track and we built it from there. I played a scratch guitar solo part in the middle of the song that I always thought we would re-record with Örn or Danni or somebody who actually knows how to play a guitar solo but then we sort of got used to it and eventually started to like it. The line in the first verse about vino tinto comes from Tilbury’s frontman Þormóður Dagsson. It’s something he says when he is very drunk and giggly.
I wrote this song when I was in Galtarviti, a lighthouse in the Westfjörds of Iceland. It’s in a really secluded valley close to Suðureyri where there is no heating or electricity and, most important of all, no phone reception. The only way to get there is by walking over a mountain or on a zodiac. It’s the most beautiful and powerful place I have ever been to and I go there every summer to write, relax and recharge. I was there alone for a day just walking around the valley with a flask of coffee and a box of wine tied to my waist with a piece of string. I wrote that song by the campfire that night. It’s about a time in my life where I lived in a commune/afterparty/concept called Ingólfsstræti 8 with my friends Teitur Magnússon and Siggi T.
This is in some way both the oddest and most basic song of the album. I wrote the lyrics before I wrote the song, which I have never done before. And I’m not even 100% sure what this song is about. But I like it. I wrote it while on vacation in the south of France. I was driving around Arles and Avignon and all that Van Gogh county down there looking at the hazy orange fields and purple skies and endless plains of sunflowers and started thinking about jackals in the rain. When I came home that night I started playing this guitar figure and tried to sing the new lyric to it and it fit so then I had a song.
“Tvö á lífi”
I wrote this song just after me and my girlfriend moved into our new apartment. I remember it very clearly. Her friend Steiney was visiting one night and they were going over some comedy thing they were going to do the next night at a music awards ceremony and I was sitting on the sofa sipping on whiskey and strumming these chords over and over again. I couldn’t find a way to write a bridge or a chorus that I liked so I just kept playing these few chords and got lost in them. Then I went into my studio the next day and recorded most of it. I got my friend Danni to play a crazy guitar part on it. We wanted to capture the sound of a lonesome stadium-type solo. Like playing a heroic big solo to an empty stadium. He cranked the amp up and got it in like two takes. He does that.
The basic idea for this song is pretty old. I think I wrote it in Galtarviti in the summer of 2012. I tried to make it work for ‘Autumn Skies’ but I just didn’t know how to finish it. Some songs are stubborn like that. I finally found an arrangement and lyric I liked one sleepless night and recorded a basic track really quick. Then I sent that out to Danni who lives in Berlin and asked him to do some overdubs and he came up with some really interesting close harmony backing vocals that kind of set the mood for the rest of the arrangement. Hjörtur then did a very beautiful string arrangement and Gummi cut it all up and put it back together to make a weird little lovely mess. An Icelandic punk band from the early 80s called S.H. Draumur inspired the title.
“Tungl, flóð og fjara”
This is another Galtarviti song. An old one too. I had been playing this guitar figure as a kind of practice for years before I realized I should do something with it. I was sitting at the dinner table in Galtarviti playing it to my friends Örn Eldjárn and Gunni Tynes and they asked me, “Whose song is that again?” Like they had heard it before. It’s one of those songs, floating around waiting to be written. My friend Bergur Ebbi who used to be in the band Sprengjuhöllin with me wrote the lyrics.
“Einhver (hefur tak’ á mér náð)”
This song started of as a kind of a joke. It’s got these power chords in it which is quite uncharacteristic of my songwriting. But there was something about it that I liked and I kept coming back to it. Then I tried playing it with the band and something clicked. It’s a really fun song to play live because it is so dynamic and the two main parts are very different in feel.
This is the first single from the album and probably the most upbeat song. But it didn’t start out that way. I wrote it on the piano as a sort of slow neo-soul Wurlitzer-based song about loneliness but that arrangement never took off. It wasn’t until I started bashing this song around with the band that the song started to take shape. Gummi and Örn came up with a great guitar lick and Hjörtur’s string hook is wonderful. So the song kind of changed from being a downer to an upper but the lyrics didn’t change. Which gives the lyrics a whole new meaning. Now it’s about being content with being alone and lonely. The title translates to something like loneliness or solitude. Solitude is essential to the human condition.
“Á meðan borgin sefur”
This is basically a blues song. I have been listening a lot to the great American songwriters and crooners like Sinatra and Tony Bennett for the past few years and this song draws from that well. It’s a song about trying to keep the balance of letting new people close while trying to maintain your mental health. And also about Reykjavík on sunny summer nights.
Learn more about Snorri on his website.