From Iceland — Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Published July 13, 2007

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

What were your intentions when you were starting out?

Unnsteinn: First it was to win the Samfés (the national youth club organisation of Iceland) singing competition.
Þórður: Yeah we started with that. We didn’t make it to anything in the competition but we were allowed to play at the dance. And then naturally we needed to practice. Þórður: We put together a few songs and it went pretty well.

Were there all eight of you then?

Unnsteinn: There was a completely different line-up on the instruments. Þórður played the drums then and now he plays guitar, and all kinds of stuff like that.

How does that change, are you always moving around the instruments or?

Unnsteinn: No, not anymore. Now everyone plays his or her own instrument.

That they know best.

Unnsteinn: Yes, exactly. Þórður: It was only last summer that the band formed with the line-up we have now.
Þorbjörg: We got Gylfi also as our drummer.
Unnsteinn: Then we were invited to play at Airwaves and we decided to change things around a bit. We buffed up the band and then everyone was able to play his or her desired instrument.

What is the process like with such a large group as far as writing music and lyrics? Are you all involved or are there a select few who do most of the composing?

Unnsteinn: I’ll maybe come up with like a base, and then the first person who gets to hear it is maybe Þórður. Then Logi, who’s my little brother, gets to say his piece. He’s been learning music theory for the past year so he always comes up with something that’s really logical but that doesn’t necessarily end up working. He has strong opinions about how the music should be. But we don’t really end up following what he says.

What do you think most affects you when you’re writing lyrics?

Unnsteinn: We just write something, whatever occurs to us. We write in many different languages. Maybe if we want to create a sort of southern atmosphere we’ll speak a southern language in the song, I think it’s more like that. And if we want to have sort of a cool song then maybe we’ll write it in English. Then of course we have a lot of influences in the music itself. Like for example just what we’ve been listening to, what me and Logi’s parents had us listen to when we were little, which is this sort of world-music, like Brazilian jazz.

How has the reception been from others in the Reykjavík music scene? You are playing music that is quite different from what other people your age are doing. How much influence does that scene have on you and how you make music?

Þórður: Quite a bit I think.
Unnsteinn: We’ve been very well received, maybe because this is sort of new or maybe different from what has been going on here before.
Þórður: It depends. Some people don’t really get it, but then there are others who are steady supporters. Like Steinþór who was back here screaming earlier. He’s supported us a lot, like many others, which is great. I think that’s what drives us most, this kind of strong support from individuals.

In other bands then?

Þórður: Yeah and then just people in the music world in general.
Unnsteinn: Like for example Benni Hemm Hemm loaned us his guitar for our first concert. And Bóas, the singer in Reykjavík!, encouraged us to form an official band to play these songs we had been writing.

What do you think about the exportation of Icelandic music? That music is becoming a product whose purpose is mainly to be sold?

Unnsteinn: I feel it kind of splits in two. You have for example Iceland Airwaves and Mr. Destiny. They’re holding these nights abroad, these Iceland Airwaves Nights at some music festivals, where young bands just like us, although we haven’t yet gone to one, get a chance to go abroad and play. But then on the other side there’s Garðar Cortes and Nylon for example. I think that music has become a product. These methods are similar, but as far as the music goes, there’s more ambition in a lot of what the first sort is producing. Like you take Nessun dorma, which is a very famous opera song, and then all of a sudden you’re hearing it with Garðar Cortes and a drum machine and a symphony. It’s a little bit strange.

Are you guys recording at all?

Unnsteinn: Yeah we’ve been trying to record little by little but it’s not going too well.

Why not?

Unnsteinn: I think it might just be laziness. Then we’ve been trying to record it ourselves, and then of course there are so many of us.
Þórður: It’s better to wait about putting out an album. You don’t really get much out of it financially speaking. It’s a lot of work and you need to prepare well for it, and we’re not completely ready for that now.
Unnsteinn: Plus we think it’s the most fun to play concerts.

It will probably help you just as much to put it on the net, because that’s where most people will hear it.

Þórður: It seems that no one buys CD’s anyway.

No exactly.

Unnsteinn: Yeah, it’s just download.

Do you ever have trouble playing at bars?

Unnsteinn: It depends.
Þorbjörg: At Grand Rokk when we were playing Airwaves last year Gunni wasn’t going to let us in.
Unnsteinn: Yeah and then when he had let most of us in we noticed that Logi my brother was missing. It turned out he was still downstairs.

He’s a little too small.

Unnsteinn: Yeah. So that was a huge problem and we had to call the festival organisers. But like at NASA the bouncers are always grabbing us. They’re completely insane. But I think they are just really into hassling people in general, not just us.

For more on Retro Stefson, visit www.myspace. com/retrostefsonmusic

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