Högni Egilsson Shows His Teeth
Högni Egilsson is a busy man. He arrives at Hotel Borg’s cocktail bar in relaxed and confident form, straight off the back of a photo shoot, which came after recording some organ music in Reykjavík’s cathedral earlier in the afternoon.
“I’ve been working on a theatre piece,” he explains. “We recorded some organ there today. It’s going to premiere on Saturday. I’m also writing a wind quintet for the ensemble here in Iceland, for a performance on February 23.”
“When you’re in a band, you’re part of a wave, a team that makes something happen.”
Between the two, and the small matter of applying the finishing touches to a new album with GusGus, he will be premiering a new project entitled HE at Sónar. With so much on his plate already, how did HE come about? “The seeds were planted a couple of years ago when I was working on a project with a male choir,” he says. “I wrote some music for a concert, and since then I’ve been working on it, on the side. Few people have heard it.”
The Edge Of Intuition
While Högni winces at my use of the word “compromise” as a factor in collaborative and band process, he does acknowledge his urge to create something in which he had full creative control. “I wanted to make music that I was responsible for, something deeper and personal, that struck a different kind of chord,” he says. “I was trying to fish out some sort of a centre, to start from there and create a universe around me, filled with endless reflections, something at the edge of my intuition. When you’re in a band, you’re part of a wave, a team that makes something happen. This is something else. It’s not more ambitious or grand than any other project, but different.”
As well as being Högni’s initials, I wonder if HE is meant in the broader sense also, of mankind more generally. “HE is a persona,” he expands. “HE is an archetype, too—of some goodness, of some worldly affection.” He is masculine, he says, hesitantly, noting its gentle qualities. “Masculinity can be thought of as some kind of ‘heroic grandeur,’” he says. “I wouldn’t say this work is masculine in that sense. There’s beauty, tragedy, modesty, lush orchestration, a warm, human, choral sound.”
It’s clear that over the years in development, this project has been thought through and through, and developed in different directions to encompass a range of contrasting ideas. “Initially, this was to be a reflective look at society and humans in a timeless sense,” he explains. “There’s a progression when humans enter a new century. We enter a new paradigm, a new gateway, and a reflective process takes place, rooted in both the past and the present.”
There Are No Friends In Art
And how is it to take the stage for the first time with a new project? Does stage-fear wear off for such a veteran performer? “I do feel quite comfortable performance-wise, but it’ll be a little bit strange to be alone, but then, there are no friends in art,” he laments, “so you’re always kind of alone.”
Högni notices my surprise at this statement. “I remember when I said that to a long-time collaborator, and he was insulted,” he says. “Of course people can be friends within art, but for the sake of creation, for the sake of driving towards some divine abstraction, when you want it to become strong, if you want to play that game of being serious about your art…”
He pauses, gathering his thoughts. “For a lot of people, creating is supposed to be fun,” he says, carefully. “And I agree with that, but you have to exchange something personal—if you believe music is precious and important, you have to be willing to go for it completely. I learned this in theatre, with set designers and artists from Russia and the Ukraine— they are serious about the realisation of art. In pop music, especially here in Reykjavík, things are very soft and friendly, but if you want to find some sort of a real core and say something, you can’t pad it with warm cushions. Sometimes, you have to show your teeth.”
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