“Do you remember Dudley, Raleigh St. Clair’s test subject in ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’? Well, I think he’s got the same syndrome,” Retro Stefson frontman Unnsteinn explains, pardoning his band mate Hermigervill for asking our photographer/plumber extraordinaire whether he had any upcoming photo shoots in the ‘pipes.’ “It’s related to his acute sense of hearing—it’s the same brain function that spots these word application-options that usually creates music,” Unnsteinn continues. “I guess genius always comes with a by product like this.”
After Unnsteinn’s apology, the two go on debating whether it’s more important to emphasise the visual or the narrative in music videos. Hermigervill prefers using the format as a platform for visual art experiments while Unnsteinn is more of a storyteller. That, and a negotiator par excellence who manages to solve this debate in a way that leaves both parties content, making apparent his strength as the leader.
MEET RETRO STEFSON
We’re in the company of three members of Retro Stefson’s 8-piece outfit: the core Stefson Brothers, or Les Frères Stefson, as they’ve tattooed on their upper arms, and their most recent addition, Hermigervill, a red-bearded synthesizer-prodigy. The band is an ever-evolving organism that has been alive for an admirably long time compared to the average age of the band, which is a little over 20-years-old. They started it when they were in elementary school as some kind of a school project and now almost one decade, two records and countless successful shows later, they’re still going strong.
At this point they’re far out of their comfort zone of 101 Reykjavík, in the lobby of the recently opened Fontana Spa in Laugarvatn with three steam rooms, a Finnish-style sauna, and outdoor mineral baths and pools.
The bunch are equipped with trunks and other essential spa accessories and they’re eager to get into the hot tubs and boil out last-night’s sins in the natural steam baths. Tomorrow they’re shooting a music video with wunderkind director Reynir Lyngdal and the following day they’re off to follow up the European release of their new record, lucidly named ‘Retro Stefson,’ with a several-week-long tour. So yeah, they’re busy.
After devouring some locally earth-baked rye bread with smoked salmon chaperoned by a few Boli beers, it’s finally time to dip our toes into the geothermal baths. There’s no time for a chat in the locker-room, as the aforementioned photographer/plumber extraordinaire reminds me that this slot was booked a long time ago for a ‘sexy-showershoot’ as he describes it. But after all disposable memory cards had been filled up with luscious photos of the hot-boy trio, we continue talking about their music video enthusiasm.
HUNTING THE QWEEN FOX
“We probably wrote about seven or eight drafts of the script and tomorrow we’re shooting a final version that we’re pretty happy with. It’s a about a foxhunter and his adventures,” Unnsteinn says, describing his collaboration with Reynir, the director of the music video that they are shooting tomorrow for their song “Qween.” The story about the foxhunter, played by Unnsteinn himself, is more atmospheric than narrative and combines the two elements Hermigervill and Unnsteinn previously debated. “Not A LOT happens as it’s only a couple of days in his life, but we see a few relatively big events.”
Retro Stefson have been pretty busy video-wise. Earlier this month they shot another video for their yet-to-be-released song, “She Said.” And on top of that they received the Icelandic Music Award for a video they shot last year for “Glow.”
Unnsteinn tells me one of the main reasons for this productivity in the video-part of the promotion is his enthusiasm in the field. Whereas a more orthodox workflow would have the director involved in the initial creative work, Unnsteinn wrote the concepts for the two last videos they made and brought them to the directors. This has resulted in an impressive number of videos thus far and he’s not ruling out the possibility of taking his film-drive beyond Retro Stefson.
While they ponder this possibility in the hybrid between a pool and a hot tub that we’re lying in, a generous spa employee arrives with a tray filled with what is possibly the greenest drink I’ve ever laid eyes on. And luckily for the photo shoot that was about to take place in the cold winds of the north, it was ragingly alcoholic and full of vitamin-rich seaweed.
YOUTUBE CHANNELS AND LURING TITS
After moving out of the cold and into the boiling natural steam bath, the gang continues to dissect their graphic tendencies. They talk about how this promotional stuff not only serves as an artistic platform these days but it’s also becoming a vital thing in the viral age we live in.
Hermigervill points out that it’s all about YouTube these days: “If you want to listen to a song, you go to YouTube so you kind of have to have a strong YouTube presence.” Logi adds: “It’s considered both dull and banal to have your album covers on the monitor when people are jigging to your tunes, so you have to produce music videos.”
“Nowadays there are also these YouTube-channels,” Logi goes on. “I started noticing them about a year ago. They are like really nice clubs with hot ladies and nice music that you can always go to—except it’s on YouTube.” Hermigervill complains about the cheap marketing method of using tits and ass to lure listeners into your channels, but Logi concludes: “that’s what you gotta do.”
KEEPING THE VISUAL SHIT TOGETHER
After abandoning that toxin-cleansing steam bath, we’re back in the lobby where the brothers sit and enjoy a piece of carrot cake. Hermigervill is however MIA and the brothers reckon he’s still drying his Viking beard; it usually takes a while, they tell me.
Our conversation turns from video to graphics as they were not only awarded the aforementioned music video award, but also the best album cover of the year by the tabloid DV. This time the credit goes elsewhere. “I’m not really graphically inclined,” Unnsteinn says humbly. “When we release an album I’d prefer it to be completely empty, without a cover.”
He goes on to explain that they’re surrounded by a lot of talent and ever since Sara María of Naked Ape fame, Árni Rúnar from FM Belfast and Halli Civelek showed up with the first batch of unsolicited band t-shirts made without their knowledge just before the release of their first album, all the graphic creative work has been in the hands of others, but mainly Halli Civelek. “He’s a no-compromises kind-of-guy,” Logi tells me, “and it might seem like we’re preoccupied with the visual aspects of our albums, but it’s all him.” They stress that they owe a lot of their image to the good people around them.
At that moment our bus rolls up and a bunch of tourists on the Golden Circle tour surround the Retro gang. When the driver announces that we’re going to stop by ﬁingvellir national park before we hit the streets of Reykjavík, the guys don’t mind. It’s an excellent warm up for the next couple of months when they’ll spend most of their time on a bus, contemplating their next moves.
Hermigervill: Can’t stop making wordplay jokes. The RZA of Iceland.
Unnsteinn: Master of his domain. A natural born storyteller.
Logi Pedro: The Swagger. Always slick and always cool. Prefers his pizza with shrimp, tuna and artichokes, a hip and gourmet combination.