If Hemmi Gunn (legendary talk show host and footballer who passed away recently—bless his soul) had conducted this interview, he would have started it off by saying: “For Grapevine’s readers, the band múm needs no introduction!” And he would have been right. However, those of you who for some reason need the information, you know where to look. If you have a difficult relationship with computers and the internet, go to the Smekkleysa store on Laugavegur 35 and ask for Ási.
Now. Through releasing a slew of albums and touring the world extensively, many times over, múm have gone through quite many line-up changes. Indeed, múm’s founders and core-members, Gunnar Örn Tynes (Gunni) and Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárason, have been joined by many people on and off stage for their creative endeavours under the múm-moniker. The number of musicians that are or have at some point been involved in the project has reached at least twenty—some of them have gone on to enjoy fruitful careers as solo artists, band leaders, experimental composers and the like after taking their first steps into creative music with múm.
Both Gunni and Örvar are constantly involved in a variety of projects. Örvar has written lyrics for bands like Hjaltalín, Benni Hemm Hemm and Ásgeir Trausti, and Gunni has produced at least seventeen albums for a wide range of Icelandic bands. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that their impact on Icelandic music scene is almost immeasurable. Nowadays, when the accepted way of obtaining knowledge and experience in the arts beyond the amateur level has moved from guilds to university degrees, one has to wonder what kind of experience lights the spark for a young artist to start creating original material, and whether the persistent creative activity around múm could almost be considered an education in itself for those who have joined in or witnessed it?
At the Grapevine’s request, I, Ólöf Arnalds, an old friend, collaborator and former touring member of múm, went to the band’s rehearsal space to meet her old road buddies Gunni and Örvar, to engage in a bit of small talk (what Icelanders like to call “talking about the day and the way”) and the imminent release of the band’s fifth comeback album, ‘Smilewound.’
Submarine teeth meet
To start somewhere, let’s start with some trivia: How long have múm been around?
ÖÞS: We don’t know.
You don’t know?
ÖÞS: At least we’re not a hundred percent sure, 1997 I guess… Our first band, Andhéri, had a record that came out that summer [starts noodling his guitar]. It was probably in the fall of that same year that all it all begun.
GÖT: We released an EP with the band Spúnk, and it was called ‘Stefnumót kafbátanna’ (“Submarines Meet”). Funnily enough, many years later I realised that in a typically dyslexic move on my behalf, half of the copies had another title written on them: ‘Stefnumót kafbátatanna’ (“Submarine Teeth Meet”). Somehow I like the second title better.
So this was when there was the only the two of you, and then the twins entered?
GÖT: Yes, in 1998, we met Gy›a and Kristín when we were making the music for ‘Náttúruóperan’ (“The Nature Opera,” experimental high school play written by Andri Snær Magnason and the group).
Your output, both through múm and as part of other projects, is quite extensive. I know there is plenty more to come, but isn’t it time to start thinking about life achievement when it comes to the two of you? How many múm records are there anyway?
GÖT: With this one, they are six.
Six records, that’s quite something, isn’t it?
ÖÞS: Well, six records in what fifteen, sixteen years? That’s nothing. That’s only a record every third year. Maybe that’s why almost every time we release a record it’s perceived as a comeback by the media. That we have somehow mysteriously gone into hiding and then returned with a new record.
GÖT: I think it’s normal, especially when people are having children and all it totally makes sense.
ÖÞS: Most bands release records every other year, but I agree. I’ve always found the time we take between records very normal.
I know. It’s that “you have to have a record every other year” pressure. I personally have never been able to keep up with that…
CALCULATE THE PAIN AWAY
You have also been touring like crazy ever since you started? I wonder how many concerts múm has played over the band’s lifetime—it must be at least up to a thousand or more by now…
GÖT: I once tried to calculate how many people múm would have played for altogether. When I’d reached some ridiculous number I gave up. Funny, this was on one of many occasions when the Icelandic tax authorities were driving me up the wall by attempting to collect taxes that were in no context with my income. I wanted to get my facts straight.
ÖÞS: That’s exactly the kind of argument they would listen to! Hmm… not so sure of that…
No I get it. You were upset, and doing the math was more something you felt like doing to see things in perspective, right?
GÖT: Yep. When I was up to a few million, the frustration wore off…
I’m wondering, because I’m one of these former disciples of The múm School Of Music And Touring, isn’t it time to make things more formal? Where do I turn to if I want a proper certificate of being a graduate from this school?
ÖÞS: I’m afraid that’s not the way things work…
Isn’t there somewhere I can go to get this formally taken care of? Where is the school’s administrative office located?
ÖÞS: I guess it’s where you’ll find us at a given time…
Let’s talk about your latest comeback album, ‘Smilewound’. Are you entering something new creatively this time?
ÖÞS: I think we’ve taken a new direction with every record of ours, so if this one would sound anything like the last one, we would be doing something differently for the first time. Then again, it’s hard to evaluate your work when you’ve just finished it.
What about you Gunni, do you feel the same way?
GÖT: I’ve been swamped in the material for such a long time now. I think I need a few months to clear my ears to get a proper picture of it.
ÖÞS: For me it takes years…
Well, the two of you must have found a way of symbiotically adjusting to each other’s pace.
GÖT: At least we’ve had a long time to tune.
And would you say you have succeeded in that?
GÖT: Yes, I would say so.
ÖÞS: It always keeps getting better and better.
Our Intrepid Reporter Ólöf
By Adrienne Blaine
Ólöf Arnalds is a singer and songwriter with wide instrumental talents. During the span of her illustrious career she has collaborated with some of Iceland’s most renowned musicians including Björk, múm, Mugison and Sigur Rós.
Ólöf is classically trained in violin and viola and taught herself guitar and charango (a small Andean guitar). As a student of Iceland Academy of the Arts, she studied violin, classical singing, composition and new media.
Her style has been compared to such folk artists as Vashti Bunyan, Joanna Newsom and Sufjan Stevens. Björk once described her sound as “somewhere between a child and an old woman.”
For the better part of the last decade, Ólöf toured with múm as a guitarist, vocalist and violinist. Since then she has embarked on a successful solo career with her debut album, ‘Við og við’ (“Us and Us”) setting the bar high in 2007.
In 2010, she released the critically acclaimed ‘Innundir skinni,’ (“Within Skin”), which was nominated for the inaugural Nordic Music Prize. Ólöf continues making music even through motherhood, releasing the crowd-funded, ‘Sudden Elevation,’ in February of this year. So far it seems as if this Icelandic songstress can do no wrong in the eyes and ears of fans and music critics everywhere.