After becoming a breakaway hit in 2008 while competing to represent Iceland in the Eurovision song contest, 25-year old Icelandic-American performer Haffi Haff has worked his way up and down the ladder to establish himself as a serious artist with solid goals. Since his first smash hit, he has spent the past couple of years writing songs, playing hundreds of shows and putting together his first full-length album, ‘Freak’, which was released this past June. Now ready to take on Iceland and the rest of the world (starting in his hometown of Seattle), he will first hit the big outdoor stage at the Gay Pride celebrations on Saturday, August 7 at Arnarhóll.
Tell me about yourself and what you do?
I am a singer, but I would say it’s more than that. I think in today’s world, you’re not just a singer, but you’re a representative. To me that’s more important than being a singer. Anybody can be a singer, there are a lot of singers on the planet and I’m not the best one. I’m more representing something.
Being yourself. I’ve always been colourful, in personality and appearance-wise as well. I’ve always had fun with that and I’ve always done it even though I was told it was not right when I was younger. I had a pair of clown shoes that were the most colourful, horrible things you’ll ever see but I liked them and I wore them. I think I only wore them once because people were so terrible, and it’s like why? It’s just something on your feet, it gets dirty and nasty over time anyway, but I think at that point kids aren’t that open to different things. I’m also gay, which makes me another type of minority. Shocking! Whoa, hold the phone! I am a homosexual! You know there are rumours that I’m actually straight and it’s all just an act.
Are there really such rumours?
Could you imagine what a fantastic act that would be? I would be the biggest fooler ever. Well I am not straight, thank you very much!
Tell me about your music.
It’s hard to explain, I guess. This city is really used to being super-indie, super-edgy, super-rock. There isn’t a lot of pop that comes along that do something that’s going to appease your type of reader, but you never know. You would hope that people wouldn’t be closed off because I’m not closed off at all. But this album is pop oriented.
Tell me about the album. I understand it took you about two years to make it, is that right?
Well, I mean the first time I sang onstage was live on television for Eurovision. I had six months of preparation. Let me put it this way: I wasn’t a singer. I’m not classically trained. I just know that I have aspirations. Oddly enough, it was never a thing for me. It wasn’t like I really sat there and said to myself ‘Oh, this is what I want to do’, but I knew that I would do something big. That was always apparent to me. I could just feel that. So whatever it was that I wanted to do, I would just do it big.
Would you say you are doing that now?
Absolutely. This is just the beginning of it. I’ve been told since I was little that I was gonna do something great. I don’t know whether it was what they told me that made me want to do it or whether I knew it myself, but I kept going. To be at this point is just proof to me that this is what I’m supposed to be doing, and I should just keep doing it.
What was the process of making the record?
The first song I was ever a part of was called ‘The Wiggle Wiggle Song’, written by my friend Svala Björgvinsdóttir. I did Eurovision with her and the song went number one. It became a humungous success by complete surprise. It was number one for three weeks and then number two, so it was on top for four weeks. I guess you can say that would be a lot of pressure to follow up something like that! I wrote my first song after that. It was called ‘See Me Now’ with a band called Mercedes Club. After that I got a call from the producer of that year’s Eurovision song who said they had a song for me, so I went in and we did that. We released that one [‘Give Me Sexy’] in February 2009 and it charted at number four.
Then I said: ‘I’m gonna do an album. That’s how this is gonna work.’ Through a lot of chance meetings I met some new producers that I wanted to work with. We worked on seven new songs and an intro over the past six months, put the album together and released it last month. I would say that we nailed it, because a lot of people did not expect very much, which is sad but also understandable. They don’t think I’m a real artist, they don’t think I’m a real person because of the circumstances that I came about in. That’s fine, whatever. I feel that I have proved otherwise.
Do you think there is sincerity in pop music?
Absolutely! Just because I want to actually reach a large audience doesn’t mean that I’m not writing about important topics. You will listen to the three songs that came especially from me, because I co-wrote the rest, those are the ones that speak about something very, very intimate. They’re just stories from my life. I don’t know what these city slickers are writing about or doing but I would imagine that they are doing probably the exact same fucking thing that I am: sitting in front of a computer for hours at a time, waking up in the middle of the night in sweats or panics and writing something down.
How does one find that sincerity when, let’s be honest, pop music is so manufactured and so much of it is so insincere?
Yes, like this video of Katie Price I saw the other day. Absolutely terrible! She was attempting to sing a song in an atrocious outfit with atrocious dancers in the corner of the TV studio. It was just so terribly done and I think she knew it. That’s what I don’t understand is: why does everyone go to music, as if that’s going to be what makes you something? And you don’t say anything in it! You don’t have a smidgeon of truth or sincerity. This is a pedestal. It’s a place where you stand on something high and say something or try to entertain people. You can do both. They are using her to just push some crap, which is the reason why people are like ‘Ugh, another pop villain.’ And that’s okay! It’s just a reason to fight and I’ve totally fought it with my fists. I’m not afraid of anyone. I know what I’m doing and I don’t have to answer to anyone.