Mammút glance at each other in surprise, in a rare moment of silence. 2018 marks their 15th anniversary of being a band—a fact that they’d forgotten, swept up in the familiar process of writing, recording, touring, and just being Mammút. “We forgot our tenth anniversary, too,” laughs bassist Ása Dýradóttir. “We didn’t do anything!”
Their fifteen years together have clearly made the members of Mammút very close. Asked what the band would be like if it was a fifteen-year-old teenager, they laugh uproariously, talking over each other and habitually finishing each other’s sentences. “It would be drinking a lot of beer, vaping instead of smoking… and probably in a mental institution,” says vocalist Katrína “Kata” Mogensen. Ása adds: “It would be so troubled. But this isn’t really a band anymore—it’s what you do with your life. It’s a part of you. You don’t really notice it.”
“I’m about to be a father,” says guitarist Arnar Pétursson. “And it’s going to be ‘the Mammút baby.’” Alexandra Baldursdóttir, also a guitarist, adds: “I was even thinking of baby names the other day, as if it were the title for an album. Like, ‘what should we name this piece we are making together?’”
“The boundaries between us have just moulded together over the years,” smiles Kata. “They’re hardly there, any more.”
Mammút first formed in 2003, when the various members were aged between 13 and 15, meaning that, alongside the fifteenth birthday, they’ve been in the band for around half of their lives. “That’s true,” says Ása, thoughtfully. “The more you talk about it, the stranger it gets.”
They first played together spontaneously, when Kata entered a singing contest. She needed a backing band and brought the group together for the occasion. “We met there, shook hands and said “Hi, nice to meet you,” and then we were onstage to play “Over” by Portishead,” says Arnar. “We won the competition. And then, two months later, we won Músiktilraunír. And there was no looking back.”
Being in the band quickly became an identity in a social landscape that was more sports-oriented than cultural. “There was a very specific space open in our school to be ‘those kind of kids,’ and we dived into it,” says Kata. “The girls were listening to Black Sabbath and Sex Pistols and Nirvana, and we formed the band, started smoking and drinking. It was a way to fight boredom.”
For the two boys in the band—Arnar, and drummer Andri Bjartur Jakobsson, who can’t make our interview—the partying came later. “I remember one night in NASA. Krummi from Mínus—the one and only—was there,” laughs Kata. “It was of the first times Andri had a few drinks. He walked up to Krummi and started grabbing his tie, or something. I just remember the way this extremely cool Krummi looked at him. We were like: ‘We can’t watch this.’”
After their Músiktilraunír win, the band often played live several times a week, also working towards their debut album. It came out in 2006—also the year that Ása joined the band. The album did well in Iceland, and their second, ‘Karkari’, followed in 2008. “That was a big step for us,” says Kata. “It was a radio hit in Iceland. We became a pop band in Iceland. We were playing at Sodoma almost every weekend, at 2 a.m. on Friday or Saturday night.”
Riding the wave of their homeland success, Mammút toured Europe twice over the following years but went on a songwriting hiatus. “We were feeling creatively exhausted,” says Kata. “Life just took over.” Ása continues: “We thought about quitting. But then, we’ve done that with each album—but just never did.” Arnar laughs, adding: “And we never will!”
It wasn’t until 2013 that their third LP, the ‘Komdu til mín svarta systir’ (‘Come to me, dark sister’) would be released, going on to win the ‘Best Album’ and ‘Best Song’ (for “Salt”) at the Icelandic Music Awards.
Recording it was a difficult journey. “It’s something we’ve gotten used to now,” says Arnar. “This creative process of thinking everything is shit, and then maybe it’s okay, and then thinking it’s great and being proud of it. If you don’t have that phase, you probably haven’t put everything into it.”
“We are extreme when we’re writing music,” continues Kata. “We go very deep into it, push very hard, and always feel the same emptiness afterwards, from giving everything. We’re all extremists in this way, as many musicians are.”
State of the union
The process was the same on Mammút’s 2017 album, ‘Kinder Versions.’ The album came out on revered UK indie label Bella Union—also home to internationally renowned artists like The Flaming Lips and Beach House. “The label really changed things for us,” says Ása. Kata continues: “They’re genuine people, and completely in it for the music. We signed the contract before we’d written any songs, and they just said, ‘Call us when the album is ready.’”
The band promised themselves they’d finish the record in 2016, but it was a close call. “We finished it late on New Year’s Eve,” laughs Kata. “Curver Thoroddsen was producing. We were all very emotionally and physically involved, in a very small space. We worked late, finished it, and went our separate ways for a few months.”
Rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle
After so many years of work, it seems a new chapter is beginning for Mammút, and the band are acclimatising to having a larger team around them. “We’ve never really had people working with us like this before,” says Kata. “Tour managers, or a label backing us up this way. It’s mostly just been us. Now when we’re resting, we know things are still happening.”
“People in the industry sometimes say we shouldn’t talk about how long we’ve been playing,” says Arnar. “But it’s a big part of who we are. It takes a lot of work and practise preparing for this. I think it’s a strength that we’ve been playing for fourteen years, and we’re still doing it.”
“I had a realisation on tour this year that we’re just a rock ‘n’ roll band,” says Kata. “It crystalised in my mind that we’re doing rock ‘n’ roll. I was sitting in a shitty hostel or whatever and thought ‘This is it.’ We’re living it, right now. You can feel it in your core. We’re rolling all the time, travelling fast, we have a small crew, and maybe everyone is sick, but we still go out on the stage. It’s all focussed towards that night’s show. It was a crazy realisation—that this is what rock ‘n’ roll is. And I love doing it.”
“I think I’m having that realisation right now,” laughs Ása.
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