Wunderkind Jófríður Ákadóttir has the unaffected calm (and charm) you might expect from someone who, at 19, is already a veteran of the Icelandic music scene. Having won the Icelandic Battle of the Bands in 2011 with threesome Samaris—Jófríður seems poised to take on bigger and bigger stages.
We met with Jófríður to discuss the two sides of the indie band coin, standing up for the grassroots, and how to survive yet another Airwaves.
Samaris recently signed to One Little Indian Records in the UK, while Pascal Pinon is signed to Morr Music in Berlin. Practically speaking, is there much of a difference in the way the two bands are managed?
Absolutely. I’ve experienced two very different sides to this business. In Pascal Pinon we don’t have an agent, we don’t have a big production around us—except for our label, which is quite established in Germany. We have a booking agent but besides that we’re in charge of all management stuff ourselves. And that’s very nice, to have control over everything… all our finances, all releases, all artwork. But that also means we have to spend much more time on it.
In Samaris, I only have to be responsible for this [points to herself]. I’m just in charge of a specific, small part and then there are a lot of other things that someone else is in charge of. And that is both good and bad—like, say, when all of a sudden a single is released and I’ve never even seen the artwork… let alone know there was going to be a single. I find that very uncomfortable.
Was it deliberate to split it up that way or did Samaris just break through in a different way?
Completely unplanned. The way I experienced it I always thought Samaris was far more likely to break through, though; it just was much more happening at the time. It started going very well, very quickly. But I mean I wasn’t really thinking too much about it either. We’re not plotting all that much. Quite the opposite.
Now you have people plotting on your behalf.
That’s the thing! And I’m not ashamed of having some kind of management. You don’t have to be indie through-and-through in order to be cool.
TENDER IS THE NIGHT
This will be your fifth Airwaves. What advice do you have for local bands playing their first festival?
All the bands who are starting out could do with slowing down a bit. You know, there comes another Airwaves after this Airwaves. And if you play your cards right you will be in it. It’s not the most important thing in the world. At least not from my experience.
Do you get the sense that it’s almost as important to play off-venue than on- at this point?
If it’s well organised. But there are a lot of things wrong with this off-venue concept. All these companies are taking advantage of the grassroots, a little bit, just by seeing that everyone’s eager to play and using it to their advantage. It’s not clear exactly who is helping whom. I think these companies should do more for the bands. In the end it’s sort of their ethical responsibility to pay them. I’m not saying that I’m not going to play off-venue, you know, I am, and it’s very fun. But there’s this way of thinking that should be torn down—I think that bands should just say: OK, this is a concert and I’m going to charge a certain fee, just like with any other concert, instead of these weird, unwritten rules. It’s important to be careful because it always piles up. You don’t realise it until suddenly… I think we played 12 times [at Airwaves] last year!
ON THE VIEWLESS WINGS OF POETRY
How important is poetry to your music? I know you and Áslaug [of Samaris] took part the local Poetry Slam last year. And there certainly is something quite haunting, and very poetic, about your lyrics.
I write poetry. And I write all the Pascal Pinon lyrics, or most of them anyway. I also really enjoy taking poetry from books. Especially Romantic poetry. This old Romantic style is so well suited for us [in Samaris], because the words are both avant-garde and they have this emphasis and this flow. It becomes incredibly fun to sing them, and to compose to them. We’ve been doing this for the past two years, collecting poetry. And sometimes we take things that already exist and write new music to it.
So there is no real emphasis on the lyrics as a separate entity, then. You don’t put the text in the liner notes and expect people to read it like poetry.
No, not yet anyway. We’ve interpreted it in such a way that the singing has just become a new instrument. You really sing through the clarinet. Áslaug [in Samaris] and I both studied clarinet for ten years, and it’s funny to work with her in this context because we’ve been through this schooling together and held hands through it and so I know a lot about how it is to be a clarinet player. And the last part of that musical education involved a lot of interpretation of the instrument, singing into it. And it works both ways, I guess, because I start to sing as though I was playing the clarinet. It’s a good harmony.
WAS IT A VISION? OR A WAKING DREAM?
Having gotten into music at such a young age, and still being in the band you started when you were a preteen, you must still be going through a lot of phases, and changes, musically. How has your attitude towards these projects changed?
When we started Pascal Pinon, there was this element of having the courage to perform. It was terribly difficult, but in a way it was beautiful, also. We were four girls, then, making music, totally immersed in our own adorable world. And I’ve been a bit hard on that project… we had this horrible out-of-tune guitar, and played all these concerts where everything was in total chaos. But I really appreciate it now, looking back. Our record, also, was a total mess, just the most lo-fi home-recording trash you can find. But actually I really like it now.
You were 14 then.
When we started the band, yeah. We were 15 when we released the album ourselves. That’s part of what led to the other girls quitting the band, leaving just me and my sister, Ásthildur. It was incredibly tense having our own release, 15 years old, and we had no idea what we were doing. Still, you know, it all worked out… I was always walking into 12 Tónar with more and more copies of the album and stuff like that.
But it was very hard. I remember our first concert was, just, intense. We played at some community centre and we didn’t have the courage to stand so we sat but there weren’t any chairs so we sat on the floor and were just singing but there were no microphones. But then in the end everyone was incredibly pleased. They loved it and we got so much good feedback. And then it became easier. I am so glad that I just went ahead and did it.
NO HUNGRY GENERATIONS TREAD THEE DOWN
It’s a big step, taking yourself seriously as an artist, this… unveiling.
It’s dangerous, too. I mean, I’m 19. I’m not paying bills or renting an apartment or having to support any offspring. I’m just doing some stuff for myself and enjoying it. I think it’s important that I don’t start suffering from the seriousness of life just yet.
I guess it’s important to the extent that it enables you to concentrate on what you are doing to the exclusion of other things. To be able to prioritise music, for example. That step of taking oneself seriously often seems more difficult, somehow, for girls. Admitting to the world that you see yourself as an artist.
Yes, absolutely. That is very true. I’m actually relieved to have done it right away. And I don’t know exactly what the impetus was. Maybe I wasn’t thinking too much about it. I just didn’t want to wait, I didn’t want to be like ‘oh, I’m so small I’m not going to show them my songs, I’m not going to do this or that.’ If I was starting out in music now it would probably be very difficult, perhaps even more difficult. But it’s important not to stop and think about things too much, and not put yourself too much into context. I think I’m in the place I am today as a result.
You have to start somewhere.
Exactly. And not hesitate to do so, whether you’re 15 or 100.