At the age of 21, Ásgeir Trausti has captivated a country with the release of his debut album ‘Dýrð í dauðaþögn’ and success has not slowed the young artist as he gets ready for his first New York show. As folk music redefines itself in the 21st century, Ásgeir Trausti is at the forefront of the emerging Icelandic scene.
Folk music has undergone a global transformation. No longer confined to tradition, folk has been infused with pop harmonies and rock anthems and Ásgeir Trausti continues that exploration with his use of electronic music elements. As we spoke before his first New York show, at The Slipper Room on March 11, Ásgeir Trausti said: “The folk scene, in general, is just getting bigger every year, I think, worldwide. I sort of got that feeling a few years ago with Fleet Foxes and then Of Monsters And Men came. It’s getting bigger in Iceland as it is worldwide.”
DELICATE, YET STRONG
Folk elements are used as a platform to create greater intimacy for a singer-songwriter that considers himself a guitarist first and foremost. “I think with 99 percent of all the things I do, I start with the acoustic guitar,” Ásgeir Trausti says. “I also do a lot of piano, but the basics are always acoustic parts.” From there, he incorporates electronic elements, hey says, “if there is a feel for that, if there is a space for it.”
Ásgeir Trausti expands and broadens folk’s boundaries with electronic sounds that emphasise his lyrics. This was evident in his live performance. The Slipper Room was the ideal venue for the young Icelandic singer-songwriter’s NY debut. His vocals shone, delicate yet strong, and there was a sense of comfort from the young artist despite the pressure of performing in New York. It’s hard to imagine that Ásgeir Trausti is at the very beginning of his career, but it had been only nearly a year since he first stepped into a studio.
THE RECORDING PROCESS
During the recording process, Ásgeir Trausti tells me he was just developing as an artist and says he took the opportunity to explore his musical surroundings. “The first time I came into a studio I saw all these synthesizers and electronic stuff,” he continues. “Growing up, I had just played with an acoustic guitar or piano and this was just a new experience for me to just try something electronic and I really liked it.”
Ásgeir Trausti approaches music in a mature manner, describing the recording process of the music “as important as writing the song,” while noting the versatility of recording in a studio where hey says “you can all add all sorts of instruments.”
The translation of his lyrics to English, with the help of American singer-songwriter John Grant, artfully kept the emotion and spirit of Ásgeir Trausti’s words intact. Performing songs in English live in New York, his voice is reminiscent of the late Jeff Buckley. Ásgeir Trausti is able to reach across his vocal range to create a sense of intimacy and his soft-spoken nature belies his rich singing voice.
The Slipper Room was full of Icelanders and pockets of conversational Icelandic could be heard throughout the intimate venue. The familiarity removed any barriers singing in a foreign language could create and many fans encouraged Ásgeir Trausti to sing his songs in his native language. Ásgeir Trausti commanded the stage, backed by four touring members, able to laugh when his band started early and even muttering a few playful curses when things didn’t go right.
At his New York debut, Ásgeir Trausti played ‘Dýrð í dauðaþögn’ in its entirety, some songs in English, some in Icelandic, and two new songs. As he continues to tour in America, Ásgeir Trausti also looks ahead to a new album. As he puts it, “We are always recording some new material.” He will continue to record in Icelandic but his success will not be defined by language as he proved he has tremendous appeal in English and his music could become Iceland’s next big export.