Rain showers hit the car windows as James Cox, the head of Paradís Sessions, picks me up around noon. A conversation about Iceland’s unpredictable weather ensues as we drive towards the harbour, hoping for the sun to show its beautiful face. The plan is to capture footage of Finnur Sigurjón, an upcoming singer/songwriter, on the ferry to the small island of Viðey in the Faxaflói bay. The catch: the journey only takes around five minutes.
What is paradise?
James Cox moved to Iceland two years ago after studying human geography in London. James, who is also the team leader of Sofar Sounds: Reykjavík, believes in the power of unplugged performances. “The absence of amps and electricity adds so many dimensions to the space,” he explains. “There is no place to hide.”
Inspired by his studies, James set out to discover what paradise means to different people. “I thought there would be at least an overlap,” James says. “But everybody said something completely different.” In search of the meaning of paradise, James now films the raw and unplugged live footage of artists in different locations around Iceland to capture honest and genuine performances, complete with imperfections.
As we enter the small cabin of the ferry, Finnur Sigurjón prepares for his performance in front of the other passengers. During his heartfelt “Allt sem er,” a phone rings, people chatter, and we arrive on the island before the song is over. When the captain yells out: “We landed! You can now leave the ferry!” the singer continues to serenade the passengers until everybody has left and the song is over. We all agree that this was the perfectly unpredictable and authentic single take James was looking for.
But we get even luckier. The small but very aesthetically pleasing church on Viðey is open, and we spontaneously decide to record another song there. Again, a little audience forms. Finnur plays through a perfect rendition of the jazzy “Haltu áfram”—we’re all stunned by the smoothness of his voice, which now has a little natural reverb from the space. Again, it’s done in one take, and the audience finds it impossible to stop smiling.
In Viðey’s cosy café we sit down to chat about paradise. Finnur, who has been writing songs since he was 12, tells us about a place in the Westfjords that he calls “paradise.”
“It’s the place where my grandma grew up,” he tells us. “I believe that I have a strong connection with the mountains there. Even though it’s not always summer, you still have everything — the sea, the mountains and the green grass during the summer. But also the clouds and the darkness.”
For James, paradise used to be a point in time, like a walk on the beach with his ex. Today, however, he takes a different approach. “It’s whatever you make of the moment,” he says.