Árstíðir are a classic lesson in poise and perfection. Their music takes in numerous influences, from folk and ‘60s pop, to modern classical music, all the while with their gliding vocal harmonies and mournful strings, they’re truly the balm to sooth your ailing soul after the inevitable excesses incurred in your Airwaves experience. And they’ve just released their latest album, ‘Svefns og vöku skil,’ so you can listen for yourself the magic that’s contained in their tunes.
We braved the poor internet connections of Eastern Europe to speak to Árstíðir about Spike Lee and the evils of Bulgarian cheese.
Who are you and what do you get up to in your daily lives.
Árstíðir is a six-piece band from Reykjavík founded in 2008. We’re not so keen on describing our music in words. We’d much rather have people listen for themselves.
We’ve all been active in the Icelandic music scene for years, playing in genres ranging from metal to pop; jazz to classical music. We are united, however, by our common interest in sea turtles. We really like sea turtles.
What got you making music in the first place? What kept you playing? Also, maybe you can tell us what musicians you hope your fans also like.
Árstíðir happened, it wasn’t planned. Three guys got together to doodle. They found that people liked what they were doing so they kept on doodling adding three more members on the way.
The thing that keeps us playing is the ability to improve. When a band rehearses as steadily as Árstíðir does, you can spot improvement almost every single week. There are also constant changes to our songs. This way we never get bored, and we don’t get stuck playing something we don’t like anymore.
Every member of Árstíðir has his own preferences when it comes to music. Our combined list of favourite musicians might fill an entire issue. But here are four names of composers we can somewhat agree on: Beck Hansen, Paul McCartney, Frank Zappa and Philip Glass.
Icelandic music is not really known for its folk tradition. Is this something you want to rectify with your music?
No, and we seriously don’t understand why the term ‘folk’ gets thrown around. When asked, we say that we play independent music, because such a definition can mean anything. Árstíðir is a band that eludes definition, and that’s the charm of our music.
Granted, there is a hint of folk music in some of our songs. But you’ll hear in them at least as much if not more classical chamber music, pop, and rock.
ÁRSTÍÐIR ARE LIKE THE BEATLES AND RADIOHEAD?
You’ve recently released your second album, ‘Svefns og vöku skil’ which was produced by the mighty Ólafur Arnalds. How was the writing and recording for this album? How pleased are you with the final product?
The songs on the album are the result of two years of song writing. Arrangements are a very big part of our music; hence we spend a lot of time trying out different instrumentations. In that process some songs have changed beyond recognition, our song ‘Shades’ probably being the best example of that. It is our guess that this album will come as a surprise to a lot of people.
During the recording sessions, Ólafur Arnalds became something like a seventh member of Árstíðir, the same way that George Martin can be considered the fifth Beatle. Ólafur is a professional in every sense of the word, and he truly understands our music and what it needs in order to be caught on a record. Our sound engineer Styrmir Hauksson also played a major role in the process, the veritable Nigel Godrich of the band. His incredible studio knowledge and sound engineering skills made the album sound the way it does.
You’ve been busy over the previous couple of months touring central and Eastern Europe. How did it go?
We’re just now in the middle of our second tour through the Russian Federation, this being the largest foray that any Icelandic band or artist has ever attempted in this country.
The first thing that strikes you is the incredible distances here. By this time we’re getting fairly used to riding on trains for 14 hours on end. But it’s worth the ordeal. We have managed to sell out big venues, and everywhere we go we are met with passionate listeners. Since our last tour we’ve built a strong following in Russia. Our fan club here is growing by the day and the media are all ears as well. Last week in Moscow we played live on a late night TV show where we fielded questions from director Spike Lee.
HIDDEN IS KEY
And what would you want to tell our readers, to convince them to come to your show (remember: the more outlandish your claim, the more punters you are likely to get)?
Since this will be our first gig in Iceland in months, we’ll be premiering a lot of material that we’ve never played live in Iceland before. Our sound has changed a lot since last winter and we make greater use of electronic instruments then we have in our previous oeuvre.
For all non-Icelandic festivalgoers, what Icelandic acts do people needs to look out for? Are there any hidden gems in the dirt that need to be discovered?
Indeed, and the key word here truly is “hidden.” Although Airwaves displays an impressive spectrum of local talent, Iceland still has many great artists that never make it onto the festival stage or the media spotlight. A visitor is truly advised to loll about in the “dirt” in between Airwaves gigs, and catch a few off-venue performances.
One act to really look out for on the festival is Momentum. They are pretty much the tightest band to ever walk the planet and they are really peaking these days.
Another act to really look out for is Orphic Oxtra. The most moshable Balkan brass in town.
By Bob Cluness