Bergur Þórisson and Pétur Jónsson, the multi-instrumentalists responsible for the rich and dreamy sounds of Hugar, are sitting down to talk prior to the release of their long-awaited second album. ‘Varða,’ which comes out on August 28th. It’s been five years in the making—“Not because we were lazy,” emphasises Bergur. “But because we were trying to do everything.”
The small studio they occupy is cramped with innumerable instruments, and Bergur admits that this perhaps opened up, “too many possibilities.” But the duo are finally satisfied and happy to release their work into the world. “It’s got everything, but that’s part of what makes is what it is,” Pétur tells me. “We’ve learned a lot on the journey,” adds Bergur.
‘Varða’ follows the slow-burning success of Hugar’s self-titled 2014 debut. Almost accidentally, the childhood friends realised they’d created an album’s worth of songs from casual music-making sessions and decided to make them available for free download online. The story could have more or less ended there, as it does for so many small, experimental bands. But Hugar had been working with friend and collaborator Ólafur Arnalds, and asked him to play drums on the album.
“It’s a lesser known fact that he used to be a drummer in a lot of death metal bands,” Bergur explains. “We needed a drummer and so, as kind of a joke, we asked him to play. He was like, ‘why not!?’ When we released the album, he posted it on his Facebook, so obviously that picked up quite some attention from the beginning.”
New ways to play
From there, interest grew slowly but surely. Three years after the album was released, Hugar started to tour internationally. Bergur and Pétur are aware that this is quite different from the normal release and promotion process but feel like their approach is part of a new movement within the music industry. “There’s so much out there,” muses Bergur. “You don’t really release an album with massive PR so everybody has to run out and buy it from the really expensive top shelf in the record store. That’s not the point anymore.”
In addition to the album, Hugar have been working on different kinds of projects and recently completed a score for a new film that will be released in October. The movie, ‘The Vasulka Effect,’ tells the story of the lives and work of Icelandic artist Steina and her partner Woody Vasulka, who were pioneers of video art in the 1960s. After its premiere at Nordisk Film Festival in Sweden, it will tour international festivals, with Hugar performing some of the soundtrack live in conjunction with its release.
Film score gigs are just part of Hugar’s busy schedule these days. In addition to a run of European shows in the coming months, Hugar will perform at Iceland Airwaves in November for the third year running. The duo have found the transition from playing small gigs to developing an international fanbase a strange but rewarding experience. “It’s always surprising and when you meet someone and they’re like, ‘oh I saw you at Airwaves in Iceland three years ago,’” Berger tells me. “But we’re really happy that they come back to the concert when we show up in their hometown. That’s a really good sign.”
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