The youngsters in Retro Stefson popped upon the Icelandic music scene about three years ago and aroused quite an attention for their extreme musical stature compared to their young age.
Since then a lot has happened; they have performed in a few Airwaves festivals, and a lot of rumours about big labels being interested in them have been going around but finally they settled down with Kimi Records. They just finished recording their debut so Grapevine sat down with the bandleader Unnsteinn as well as their keyboardist Yngvi.
What is the reason for your youthful triumph?
“To tell you the truth it was our parents that created us, they sent us all to the same school. We wanted to take place in the Samfés singing contest, but we didn’t qualify as our school’s feature but the whole Samfés battery was so fond of us that they let us perform at the dance following the competition.”
There is a whole bunch of relatively young bands that never get out of their garage, what is it that made you guys an exception?
Well, we aren’t exactly young anymore, of course we’ve existed for over three years, but we’re trying to wash that stamp of us. We were extremely competitive, which gave us quite an advantage. I mean, we played everywhere, anytime and didn’t make any demands.
Your forthcoming full-length, is it a summary of all your works over the years or does it only include recent stuff?
It’s about fifty-fifty. And the oldest pieces on the record are about three years old. But we recorded everything that we’d previously caught on tape to have genuine harmony on the record, except for a single song, which we like so much, is the original version that we decided to keep it that way.
Árni +1, a celebrated DJ and a musician, recorded and mixed your record and is working his ass off mastering it right now. How did you end up with letting him take care of the whole thing?
He taught us Computer Science in our primary school, and later on we also fixed him a job in our community centre. The people that hung out at the centre were basically Retro Stefson so we established a bond immediately. To begin with there was a recording program run by the centre where he taught us to record music and so he was basically getting paid by the City for recording our stuff. And the next step had to be to serious things up a bit and so we did.
There has been a popular game amongst coolcats going around in 101 called “How many members are there of Retro Stefson?”, could you possibly enlighten the bewildered crowd of your exact number?
Well it varies between 7 and 13, so I guess the game is unwinnable. But seriously, we are most often seven but sometimes when we’re doing gigs we get help.
And over these years, has the gang gone through a lot of turnovers?
It has. Some people have switched positions and some have quit. Þórður, who used to play the drums, has completely moved over to playing the guitar which compelled us to get a new drummer, who is also the first one in the band not from Austurbæjarskóli. Not that I’m saying he’s bad though.
The rumours about you possibly signing up with Moshi Moshi around Airwaves ’07, were they factual at all?
You know, things tend to scale up in the media. It all started on Airwaves ’06 when they asked for a demo from us, which they liked, but we didn’t hear anything from then until the year after. Then we got an enquiry whether we wanted to play on the Moshi Moshi night at Airwaves, which we obviously did. After our set we talked to the M.M. promoters who told us they’d love to publish some singles by us and so on but none of it was ever confirmed. Then a journalist calls us up and asks whether the label had contacted us and whether they’d said anything about publishing us, but of course we had to answer these questions affirmatively although we stated that nothing had been confirmed. The next day we see the headline: “Retro Stefson Presumably Published by Moshi Moshi”. Kind of a slap to the face.
So you reckon you’re victims of the press?
No not at all. We like them a lot. You could even say that we’re pets of the press.
Do you all work on the composition together or is there a prodigy amongst you that does all the work?
I do most of the composing but it would actually be crap if it wouldn’t be for the band’s arrangements. I’m no dictator and there are a lot of licks in the tunes which I didn’t come near the fabrication of. You could say I mould the foundation but the others actually build the house.
You tend to mix languages together in your lyrics a lot, is that simply a gesture to be considered artsy or does it have a meaning?
A lot of us grew up overseas e.g. me and Logi grew up in Portugal and Yngvi is half-Norwegian. To begin with it was maybe because of some fright of singing in Icelandic because everything sounds kind of lame when you sing it but it evolved. One song named after my Cuban dog Luna was in Spanish for obvious reasons and the song Medallion [one of their hits] is based on a discovery of mine and Þórður of a cheese book with all the world’s cheeses. So the lyric is basically mumbo jumbo, for we simply recite cheese names.
You being all so multi-cultural and many, there has to be barbaric fights between you guys?
To tell you the truth it’s kind of unrealistic how peacefully we get along. Well, everyone except my brother Logi and me. We argue a lot but our quarrels are usually family-wise. Come to think of it that might be the cause of the whole peacefulness with the others, maybe we are so eager that there’s not any room for the others.
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