It was on a dark New Year’s Eve that a group of five young friends decided to make a resolution: participate in and win the “Icelandic Battle of the Bands,” also known as “Músíktilraunir.” The newly formed band, which the friends called Hórmónar, went to the competition, performed, and conquered. This victory was, for the group, the beginning of a venture into the Icelandic music scene, with all its complexities and grim realities. However, the friends emphasize that despite the struggles of juggling life as young female musicians, the joy of being on-stage and expressing themselves through music is a feeling worth fighting for.
The band is made up of singer Brynhildur Karlsdóttir, guitarist Katrín Guðbjartsdóttir, bassist Urður Bergsdóttir, drummer Örn Gauti Jóhannsson and saxophone player Hjalti Torfason. They’re all 23-years-old, apart from Brynhildur, who is 24. They’re now releasing their first album, “Nananana Búbú,” comprised of the punk rock songs they’ve created over the past few years. It was recorded together with Guðni Gunnarsson, who worked passionately to get the album just right.
“We are so grateful to him,” Urður says. “He put as much hard work into it as any of us in the band. When we recorded the album in the studio, we worked for three full days, non-stop until 5 AM. It was like a theater performance. We rehearsed and then we performed the songs, with all the passion we could muster. It’s like, you’re on; nothing can be half-assed.”
The release of the album comes at a time that fits in perfectly with the rhythm and goals of Hórmónar. When the band first won Músíktilraunir, the media put a lot of pressure on Hórmónar to create an album.
“We only had a few songs at the time and we were doing interviews constantly,” Örn says about the weeks following the competition. “There was a lot of hype around us and we were asked questions that we simply didn’t have answers to. ‘Will you make an album? Where will you be performing?’ These questions were exhausting.”
For the band, it was important to resist this pressure. “Everyone was saying to keep up the momentum,” Katrín says. “But we know we wouldn’t have been able to do the album justice if we had rushed it like that. These things take time. It’s now two years later, and we’re releasing the album we want to release.”
The band faces similarly challenging decisions as they go about the business-side of having a band. Since they have no prior experience in the music industry, the members have undergone a trial-and-error process to find the right balance between music and management.
“When we first started out, I took care of the business side of things,” Urður says. “It was too much. I had a nervous breakdown and I almost quit the band. I went into a concert once thinking, ‘this might be the last show.’ But I ended up feeling re-connected to the music through the performance. The music reminded me of why I do this.”
After this episode, the members decided to split the work amongst each other and they also later hired a manager. They continue to engage in the administrative tasks when they can.
“It’s difficult because we all have jobs and studies besides this career,” Katrín says. “And I have a child. It’s a lot to juggle. But we do what we have to do to be able to play our music.”
Another hurdle the band encounters is that of gender discrimination. “We never intended to have a feminist message but it became necessary very fast,” Katrín reflects. “We are three girls in this band, which is rare for rock.”
“Men can often sexualize us at performances,” Urður adds. “But if we take off our shirts, it’s because the stage is hot. It is normal for male rock musicians to take off their shirts. We are not doing it for the men, we’re not trying to catch their attention. Women are often looked at as muses, the objects, not as the musicians, the subject. We want to show that we are subjects. We are on stage because we want to be there—we are not there to make men happy.”
Most of the songs on the album are deeply personal, rooted in the band’s experiences as women and young adults, and written as an outlet for their feelings to take form. “One song — ‘Frumeymd’ — is about rape,” Katrín says. “This is a subject that is close to all of us girls in the band. The song allows us to feel empowered and get people to understand that we own our own bodies.”
When the band plays together, emotions run high. “Brynhildur sings, and she expresses herself through screaming. Örn plays the drums, and he demands attention that way,” Urður says. “All of us in the band have been through struggles. We all first started hanging out as a group after rehab—music is a way to express our experiences and feelings.”
Although the band had no experience in the music industry prior to Músíktilraunir, they all grew up with music in one form or another. Katrín taught herself to play the guitar at a young age, Urður sang in the choir throughout her childhood, and Örn has played the drums since he was ten. As a band, they encourage each other with warm affirmations, complimenting each person’s contribution to the group.
“Urður has the best musical ear,” Katrín says, gently touching Urður’s back. “Her choir background helps us make harmonies and give the music layers.”
“But Katrín keeps us all on time for meetings. And Örn has the most musical experience,” Urður adds. “He is really the reason we got a band together. He had all the instruments we needed in his garage and we could go practice there. Without him, I don’t know what we would have done.”
The group members’ affinity for music and each other is evident. Through their close-knit friendship with each other, as well as their passion for music, Hórmónar has built a strong foundation for facing any future battles that lie ahead.
Information: Hórmónar’s album “Nananana Búbú” comes out on August 24th. They will have a release party at Gaukurinn on August 24th at 8.30 PM.