“I still have two weeks, don’t I?” smiles múm founding-member Örvar Smárason, coming out of a daze as he quietly contemplates his imminent first-ever solo performance. He’s right: when we talk, Sónar Reykjavík is a fortnight away. But as the festival draws nearer, Örvar still has little idea of what his show will consist of.
He booked the slot almost as a way of cajoling himself, he explains. Deadlines are a good way to force oneself into action, lending a welcome sense of urgency and focus. But there must be a seed of an idea, right?
“There’s always a sound in my mind, I guess,” he admits. “But I’m still realising what this is going to be. I don’t know if I’ll be singing or not. I’ve been writing these songs using computer-generated voices to help write vocal lines. They were just supposed to be a tool, but now I’m stuck with them… I need to figure out if I like them. But I ordered a vocoder online, that’s due to arrive today. So maybe I’ll sing the computer lines…”
His voice peters out, and his eyes relax focus into the middle distance. Örvar has slipped back into the world of his imagination.
Weird stoner music
It seems almost strange that, in his twenty-year career, Örvar has never really made any solo music. He recalls one collaborative teenaged tape release, which he describes as “weird stoner music,” and some early experiments that were lost forever when his first computer was thrown away. But since then, múm has been his primary creative focus.
“We’ve been lucky to have all these different kinds of projects,” he says. “We work on classical music, or do weird DJ sets, or radio theatre. There hasn’t been much need to do my own stuff. But suddenly, I felt the need to do it.”
Bringing those imagined sounds into the real world isn’t always easy. “I’m right down at the bottom of the creative process,” says Örvar. “It brings you to a deep, dark place sometimes. I’m right there, right now. I can’t see the way forward yet.”
Not completely human
Örvar, like many creatively inclined people, goes through the mill when he’s beginning something new. Creativity is difficult, and can be personally challenging. “There comes a point where everything you touch seems like shit,” he laments. “A few months ago I had a moment where I was writing songs, and I needed to pick my kids up. I sat down in my car and realised I couldn’t even drive. I was lucky I’d walked to the car without falling over. I get tense and not completely human… I forget everything and when I leave the house I need to go back in three times because I’ve put on different shoes, or something.”
But it’s also intentional, to some degree. Despite the difficulties involved, there’s a part of Örvar that’s revelling in the writing process, and intentionally trying not to let any ideas settle. “It’s fun to be in that moment. But ideas never come out as you imagine they will,” he explains. “Like when múm performed with Kronos Quartet at Airwaves, we had two years of thinking how it would be. You could be seeing it front of your eyes, imagining it for hours while you’re walking or doing the dishes… but it’s never like that.”
“Maybe I should just spend less time thinking, and more time actually doing things,” he smiles, drifting off into the echoes in his mind once again.