Agent Fresco’s new album ‘Destrier’ starts with a series of disparate sounds that slowly meld into a Tartini tone—that is, when two notes play at a certain frequency, fooling the brain into hearing a third note. Although this extra note doesn’t exist, we believe it’s there, and it affects us as much as any other sound.
Agent Fresco singer Arnór Dan’s last three years involved a kind of Tartini tone, when the tune of his ordinary life was upset in 2012 by a violent assault. He walked away from it with a broken eye socket, and though it healed, the emotional scars still haunt him.
Sitting in his minimalistic, IKEA-furnished downtown apartment with a few pints between us, Arnór tells me how this psychological trauma affected him, resulting in panic attacks, social anxiety, tunnel vision, and, at his worst, hallucinations. “I once woke up in the middle of the night and saw some strange man standing in my room,” he says. “I’ve never been so freaked out in my life.”
What upset him most was when his mental health started taking a toll on his voice. He likens singing at the time to the frustration of trying to play a guitar that’s out of tune. “The mental absolutely affects the physical in this sense,” he states. “I refrained from seeking help for too long.”
His only solace came from his international tours with composer Ólafur Arnalds, where every day was different. But back at home, he had a hard time dealing with his social anxiety, isolating himself instead of hanging out with his friends. “I didn’t want to go out for a beer, because I was obsessed with finishing the album,” he says. “It drove a wedge between me, the rest of the band, and my girlfriend.”
The road to recovery took years, and he admits there were a lot of things he should have done differently. But one thing is certain: the hardships served as a catalyst for what became ‘Destrier’.
Carving their own path
Agent Fresco have always been unconventional. As a band, their influences involve elements of pop, math rock, emo, nu-metal, prog, jazz, classical, and more. They deftly avoid genre classifications—in Arnór’s mind, partly because the group is anything but homogeneous. Their sound is made from the combination of contrasts— for example, when Arnór’s chaotic songwriting style meshes with guitarist Þórarinn Guðnason’s complex, structured compositions.
“It would be so easy for us to follow some sound or trend,” he says, “but instead we choose to go a different route, working with people we knew we’d clash with, to make for more interesting music. You can hear that on ‘Destrier’. Every song there is so different, they end up existing in their own soundscapes. We could easily have gotten a math rock or metal person to mix for us, but following what’s been done before is just a waste of time and not why we write music to begin with.”
Arnór says that it’s his emotions of rage and anxiety that lie behind ‘Destrier’, rather than the sad, melancholic undertone of 2010 ‘A Long Time Listening’. This, Arnór tells me, came partly from him throwing himself into the album straight after the attack. In hindsight, this wasn’t a good idea, he says, but it allowed him to funnel his inner turmoil into a creative outlet.
From our conversation, it’s apparent that Arnór is a very empathetic person (we spend a good while talking about Syria, politics, and internet bullying before starting our interview). But he says that the attack turned this aspect of his personality into hypersensitivity, and his fuse grew short. All it took to make him angry was checking Facebook or news sites.
“Listening to the songs now, I can hear the anxiety in my voice,” he says. “I can hardly recognise the person I was back then. But I think it’s important to talk about these emotions and attempt to deal with them.”
A personal journey in public
Arnór recollects how, as a teenager, he had a very personal connection with the music he listened to. With so much of himself and his emotional journey in his lyrics, he’s been humbled by the reception to the album, from fans and reviewers alike.
“I read every review we get,” he says, “and it’s unreal to see people giving it nine or ten out of ten. People are really getting into the album, analysing each song, reading into the symbolism and structure. That sort of dedication isn’t something you can take for granted.”
He says a lot of the songs have clear correlations to what was going on in his life. “Dark Water,” for example, is about his alienation from the band; “See Hell” focuses on the cycle of violence; and “Wait For Me” is about how time doesn’t stand still while you’re away.
Even though the songs have very specific connotations for Arnór, what amazes him is how people relate to them. He mentions an example, the opening track with the aforementioned Tartini tone—that same effect is then also found in the final track, but in reverse, where one note breaks away into multiple smaller ones before fading away. Arnór says when he hears these sounds, he thinks of anger building up, of destruction—while bandmate Þórarinn thinks of life being created, of beauty. “Either way,” he says, “it’s about beginnings and endings.”
The biggest stage
Once the album had been mixed, mastered and released, Arnór says they started working on staging as big an album release party as they could. Much like they had done with ‘A Long Time Listening’, they wanted to play the entire album on a stage that could accommodate all their collaborators and session players. “We knew we needed something bigger than Húrra or Gaukurinn,” he says, “so we thought: ‘Why not just get Harpa’s Silfurberg?’”
It was no small undertaking, and they struggled to make the money add up—but the show was all but sold out shortly after the 720 available tickets went on sale [update: they have now sold out, but there might be some return tickets available]. “We want to give people the opportunity to hear these songs the way we want them to be heard,” he says. “We’ll never get this opportunity again, you know, so we really want to make it count.”
At the time of writing, the band is busy rehearsing. When asked if they can repeat the opening and ending Tartini tones live, Arnór says they’ll definitely be there. “It’ll be the whole album, in sequence,” he confirms, “from track one to fourteen.”
On the subject of what’s to come, he says Agent Fresco have an extensive European tour confirmed and a US tour currently being booked. And, of course, they’ll play at Iceland Airwaves.
He hints at that their next album might focus on empathy and apathy, but he won’t know for sure until the final note has rung.
Agent Fresco’s Album Release Concert is tonight at Harpa at 20:00. See the full listing here.
Agent Fresco are playing the following dates at Airwaves:
-Wednesday, November 4 at 00:20 at Harpa Silfurberg
-Thursday, November 5 at 22:00 at Fríkirkjan
-Sunday, November 8 at 20:00 at the Vodafone Hall