Former Skátar rocker Markús Bjarnason shows a softer side on his new album ‘Now I Know.’ Recorded under the name Markús & the Diversion Sessions, ‘Now I Know’ is a set of more gentle acoustic songs written over the past few years. Grapevine met up with Markús to discuss his new path.
“Diversion Sessions is just, like, the concept or the name of the project. That’s the Diversion Sessions,” Markús tells me when I ask what the name denominates, and if there is a band behind it. “The diversion is the guitar; it’s a session of songs that have been piling up for ten years.”
You’d played these songs before, but this is the first time they’re released?
‘Now I Know’ is a seven song album. It’s not an EP, but it’s not a full CD either. It’s like twenty minutes. It’s the songs that could stand alone, without drums and without extra instruments. I’ve played a lot of them live, but I added a little extra vocals, a little bit of percussion for the record. The next album is going to be more complex, with more drums and bass and some different stuff.
How does your solo stuff differ from your work with bands?
I used to play bass in a prog-rock type band, Sofandi. We played a lot of melodic stuff. We put out two albums that I was really proud of, I was happy with them. I then joined a progressive rock band – well, not really progressive, more of a noisy guitar rock band with a progressive elements – called Skátar. I sang and screamed there, as well as playing synths. I’ve been in these bands where you just couldn’t bring in your songs that you’d been writing on your acoustic guitar, simple verse or a sing-a-longs. So I had all these pop songs laying around that I’d been playing over and over in my home, and I started playing them, you know, five times a year and then more and more.
It’s a complex thing, when you’re a band it takes more money and more organizing and touring is more difficult. I wanted to do music more, so I decided to make this solo thing real and put out stuff professionally. I’ve been playing solo for two years, and now I’m putting together a band because many of the songs really demand it. I also can’t really play an entire song in one rhythm; I always speed up and think, “Oh, I’ve sped up too much!” Now I really need a drummer.
When I mentioned I’d never heard your music in the US, you said that “There are no countries anymore, everything is on the internet…if you have internet you can just google it.”
It just hasn’t arrived. I was just making a joke, I’m really lazy using the internet, that’s why I’m kind of making fun of it and making fun of myself at the same time. I also am slowly accepting the fact that you have to work on the internet if you want to promote your music; it’s just a thing you have to do. It’s a lot of work, because you have to spend an hour or two hours doing office work. Artists have people doing it for them, but you have to do it yourself, at first.
Are you primarily a musician?
I’m not that schooled in music, I’m not a session player or a musician, I’m not doing gigs whenever, wherever. I’ve been playing in these independent, indie bands that only perform their own songs, and alternative music. So I would never make any real money. But with Skátar, with a progressive rock band, we made some money but it all just went into making more music and into travel. We weren’t losing money, so we were happy. With this I’m aiming to survive from it as a side job, 20-30 percent, two months a year, three months touring, stuff like that. I wouldn’t want to be a full time artist, travelling all the time. I have a family now and the travelling seems like such a hectic job. I work for the city. I work with an after-school program with kids.
Have you found anything that works well when writing music?
Yes. (Pause) Yes, if you really want to write music, like new music, you kind of have to switch between that and learning an instrument. I was learning piano and then I stopped learning piano and a couple of months later I wrote my first song on a piano. It’s the same thing with guitar, I studied guitar for three or four years and then I just stopped. And then I suddenly started picking up the guitar and writing songs on it. I think if you’re really a good musician then you have feelings, but you’re learning a classical instrument and you’re learning cover songs and theory and blah blah blah. You kind of have to stop and pause that, experience some stuff, leave the instrument alone and pick it up when you’re feeling like you want to create something.
How do you know when something you play is a song, and when a something is nothing?
Just when it feels really like a cliché that has been done many times over and there’s nothing new. I sometimes just play something really cliché, really just pop and it’s been done many times before, but then I play it and I find a new angle, or a bridge or something from it and maybe the context makes it funny. Sometimes I write something and I think, “Oh, this has been done,” and I won’t want to play it for anybody. And it’s OK to forget stuff.
I also discovered that if you decide two months from now to record five songs and put them on the internet, a week before you get to the recording part and you’ll sit down and the songs will be ready. It’s really amazing, and if they’re not ready you just start recording and then you just finish them.
Something magical happens, like sending a message to the universe or something: “I’m going to make an album on this day,” and then suddenly this magical thing happens, you invent a really cool riff for it and then the song and everything just comes together, exactly then. But if you don’t even have a name for your project or aren’t planning on doing a gig, and it’s just like really airy, then nothing happens. You have to send a message to the universe. A really good thing for that is a great name for your project or something where you make up a universe for it. You make a world for it.
What’s next for you musically?
This type of thing with a drummer and a bass, I’m just putting together a band.