Fifteen shows in five days.
It sounds like a pitch for a reality TV show, or maybe even a Dirty Dancing quote. But for Virginia-based, post-pop band The Anatomy of Frank, it was just a schedule for Iceland Airwaves 2014. Last year, these loony tunes (and I say that affectionately) played a boatload of shows. This year, they’re returning to Iceland Airwaves, with the intent of playing eleven more off-venue shows, this time in four days. I caught up with the Anatomy’s resident keyboard-king, Jimmy Bullis, mid-European tour, to get the scoop on their myriad musical rendezvous in Iceland.
You played an insane amount of off-venue shows last year. How did that come about? Did you go into it wanting to play as many shows as you could, or did it just sort of happen?
The whole ‘play as many shows as physically possible’ thing started with us not knowing what to expect with booking venues. We were doing a European tour, and it about lined up with Airwaves, a festival we had heard great things about. So we decided to pass through on our way to the UK and mainland Europe and see what would happen. We sent e-mails to a bunch of different venues expecting to hear back from only a few of them. But some time passed, and when venues started putting together their schedules, a funny thing happened–everyone we had e-mailed responded.
We realized it was possible for us to play many shows because—due to our financial constraints—we hadn’t been able to ship all of our amps and drums over for the European tour, and had rewritten and rearranged the songs to be performed on instruments we could carry in our hands. That meant we needed very little set-up time. So if we planned it well, we could play a show at 17:00, finish at 17:50, walk down the street to the next venue, set up and be playing at 18:00 without too much trouble. It wasn’t always easy, but with an ambitious mindset (and occasional help from friends and strangers with cars on some longer treks), we managed to pull it off.
Can you run us through a typical day at Airwaves 2014?
Each day was exhilarating. We were staying in a few different places around Reykjavík, so we’d decide on a place and time to meet each day before our first show. After making some breakfast and usually sleeping fairly late, I would try to see some other off-venue shows.
The only really unfortunate thing about our packed schedule is that we had to miss some really great shows in order to play. It would be nice if it was possible to be in two places at the same time when so many good shows are happening, as there usually are at Airwaves. Times we could make the shows between our own sets were some of the most fun for me. There’s something exciting about switching between audience member and performer so quickly. And more and more we’d be recognized at other shows and make new friends that way, which was a humbling experience.
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What was the weirdest thing that happened at one of your Airwaves shows last year?
There was one funny moment when a rather drunk man came into one of our shows and started cheering wildly and yelling between each song. We asked his name and he shouted in a heavy accent, “I’m Scott… from SCOTLAND!” And that was pretty great, especially because, to our relief, he was quiet during each song. When you’re playing quiet music like our set at Airwaves was, it is important that you manage to keep the crowd engaged in the music so everyone’s able to hear the little things. I love loud music as much as anybody and plan on seeing a whole lot of it this year, but I think it’s nice for people to find something more intimate like that. It creates an atmosphere that lets listeners come along on the journey and enter your world in a different way.
Why Iceland? Why Airwaves? What brings you back?
Reykjavík is actually our most played city, I think, even more than our hometown in the United States. It began with Kyle’s interest in the landscapes and music in Iceland, I think something we all shared a bit of, but he had a chance to act on this feeling. In 2012, he e-mailed a band called Árstíðir, a band that we’ve gotten to see grow quite a bit since then. They said they’d play a show with him and also connected him with Myrra Rós. Kyle toured opening for Árstíðir and Myrra, and eventually Myrra and Júlíus Björgvinsson (from VAR, but this was before VAR had released any music) came to the U.S. and played at our first album release show. They stayed and played with us there for a tour. People in Charlottesville still talk about her set. We’ve become quite close since. We’ve also brought Svavar Knútur to our hometown in Virginia and he was amazing to play with. The audience was in love with him.
So I think it began with a curiosity but has been reinforced by our friendships and experiences in Iceland. Airwaves 2014 was one of the greatest weeks of my life, and it’s something we’ve been looking forward to ever since. It was such a wonderful experience. Our first show, there were only a handful of people. The second there were a few more, the third and final for the day was probably our first good show. A decent number of people came and it felt like everyone left having enjoyed it. They must have started talking about it because the next day’s shows were even better and then by the third day, we were seeing too many people to fit in the room.
If you had the chance to drop everything and move to Iceland, would you?
I can’t say I’ve fully considered it yet, I’ve been basing my decisions on the band and I think for us right now it might not be the most prudent move, given where we are heading. We also probably can’t afford to move at the present time. That said, I could see it being a good thing for me and an inspirational move for the band.
If I moved here, I would definitely continue making music. We are certainly influenced by the Icelandic music scene, and I would love the chance to get more involved in it. I think if it were to become something I or the band were to think about seriously, I would want to ask some Icelandic people and friends what they thought. I would want it to be something done with understanding and respect for what we’d be coming to do. It does seem like a beautiful place to live and I’ve always been made to feel welcome in Iceland.
Catch Anatomy of Frank at one (or all) of their off-venue shows during Airwaves:
- Thursday (November 5)
- Friday (November 6)
- Saturday (November 7)
- Sunday (November 8)
Posted November 5, 2015