Moses Hightower might be one of the busiest bands in Reykjavík. As we sit down to talk, lead singer and keyboardist Steingrímur “Steini” Karl Teague is about to embark on a monthlong tour; drummer Magnús “Maggi” Trygvason Eliassen is in more bands than there’s space to list here.
Both are full-time working musicians, plying their trade as session artists and score composers between albums while also contributing to other bands. Their bandmates—lead singer and bassist Andri Ólafsson, and guitarist and singer Daníel Friðrik Böðvarsson—are similarly busy, and unavailable for the interview due to prior engagements.
Somehow, though, they found time to release a record this year. The third Moses Hightower album, ‘Fjallaloft’ (“Mountain Air”) is an eclectic collection that has proven a local hit. But finding the time to record and practice can be challenging. “It’s even more difficult now than it used to be,” says Maggi. Steini concurs: “I think we work faster now when we actually find the time, but keeping things going and not losing the thread can be a struggle.”
A slow process
It’s partly their busy work schedules that led to ‘Fjallaloft’ being so long in the making. “The temperature of the world probably went up by like 0.3 degrees in the time it took us to finish it,” jokes Maggi.
Reflecting back on such a drawn-out creative process can be difficult—but slow work also has its benefits. “It’s like growing a beard,” says Steini. “You see no difference from one day to another, and then all of a sudden it’s there. You don’t feel used up when you finally find the time to record—there’s a lot of time to gather things that you want to try. When the four of us get together, we’re all ready with something to contribute.”
The big picture
One distinctive element of their music that might go over the heads of non-Icelandic speakers is their eccentric and yet tender lyrics, on subjects like the rituals of drunken heart-to-heart conversations (on “Trúnó”) to the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashing into Jupiter in 1992 (on “Geim”).
“Some bands like to have their lyrics really open, so it’s easy to relate to them and apply them to your own life,” says Steini. “We tend to go the other way, narrowing things down and zooming in—getting so close that you can’t see the big picture any more, and have to fill in the blanks.” Adds Maggi: “The lyrics are usually the last thing we add.”
The soundscape behind the music is complex, with miniscule details working together to provide the ambience in amongst the instruments. “There’s no right or wrong,” says Maggi. “We’ll try anything. In one song, I used lighters to get the right sound and played them until I bled. We’ll try out different things, different sounds and different moods. For us, it’s important to have fun.”
This playfulness is evident on the album, which—despite its softness and the lazy drawl of its drums—has a tendency to shake things up, catching the listener off-guard and grabbing their attention with sudden transitions. The band refer to their sound simply as “pop,” citing inspirations from across the genres, but they don’t want to be too easily defined.
“Pop music can sometimes be a bit predictable,” says Steini, “so it’s fun to make something that manages to break the rules without transitioning into other genres—just too see if it’s possible.”
‘Fjallaloft’ is out now. A release party takes place Sept. 22 at Háskólabíó; tickets are on sale at tix.is.
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