In IÐNÓ’s airy attic space, overlooking Tjörnin, Jóhannes (Jói) Bjarki Bjarkason, Bjarni Daníel, Auðunn Orri Sigurvinsson and Sævar Andri Sigurðarson sit comfortably, sporting electric blue boiler suits and sipping coffee as they reflect on their band’s new album, ‘Skoffín hentar íslenskum aðstæðum’. Full of existential angst, the release is heavier than Skoffín’s previous offerings, but still retains the raw youthful energy that is these indie rockers’ lifeblood.
“We wanted to parallel the Cold War era atmosphere in Iceland to the climate crisis atmosphere that we’re facing nowadays,” Jói explains, referencing the album’s apocalyptic lyrics and jittery guitar riffs. “I was having a chat with my parents. I was talking about becoming vegan and I was just facing this existential crisis,” he continues. “I felt that my life and the lives of our generation were in danger.”
“Which they are,” Bjarni solemnly interjects.
Skoffín has always had a political undercurrent—all are proud members of the anti-capitalist grassroots music collective Post-dreifing. In fact, Bjarni is currently orchestrating the group’s summer takeover at IÐNÓ in place of their cancelled Hátíðni festival. But ‘Skoffín hentar íslenskum aðstæðum’ is arguably the band’s most radical recording yet. “I actually have this really good quote [about the album] recorded on my phone from Sævar,” Auðunn explains. “It’s ‘we’re going to be thrown out of society for this album.’”
Songs for trembling
Though the musicians are quick to crack a joke, they’re clearly heavily invested in their subject matter. “I remember rehearsing ‘Sætar stelpur’ and just bursting into tears,” Jói recounts. “I feel as though there’s something in that song that’s trying to come out and kill me… the energy’s very much desperate.”
Bjarni nods. “When we practise sometimes, I end up trembling,” he says, seconding Jói’s account. “I’ve played so much music over the past couple of years, but these tunes still really, really get to me. I think we left some magic in these songs—some dread and anxiety that gets brought back to life every time they are played.”
So, imagine the band’s surprise when the first reviews came out, describing ‘Skoffín hentar íslenskum aðstæðum’ as a “fun record”. On reflection Jói recognises that, despite its heavy theme, the album is, as he describes, “…a really fun record to play”.
A flirtatious nightmare
And there we find the central irony of the album: it’s both energetic and nihilistic, seemingly playful and panicked all at once. “We’re sort of flirting with a bunch of different subject matters,” Auðunn explains. “We’re super directly talking about atomic bombs and mass destruction but also comparing it to having crushes on girls.” Few other bands could pivot so effortlessly between referencing the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and rising CO2 levels to the trials and tribulations of a teenager in love.
According to Bjarni, this was intentional—dig below the surface and you’ll always find some link back to the album’s sombre theme.
Take 60s-feel doo-wop track “Skoffín vinnur sem tæknifræðingur hjá borginni”: “if you think about it in context to the terrifying opening C# diminished chord, even this doo-wop song becomes terrifying, it’s actually nightmarish,” Bjarni explains. Inspired by a host of new-wave post-punk musicians, the band harnesses these clashing components to heighten the album’s jarring energy. “We became very invested in this idea of making it sound very anxious, making it very in your face.” Jói says. “The whole process was very experimental.”
“A hard-working band”
Initially Jói’s solo project, Skoffín has had numerous line-ups over the years, but now secure in its membership, the group has evolved. “Skoffín became a different entity when we all started pitching in ideas,” Auðunn explains. “The songs always start with an idea and then another and another and we just stack them until we’ve got a whole song. It’s been really fun to see what we can do together.”
“It’s getting more collaborative,” Jói confirms, and all four agree that the band is stronger as a result.
Although the band’s structure may have shifted over the years, its values have not. “We’re a very hardworking band,” Jói says. “There’s this blue-collar work ethic about us.” The four then dive into the story of how they recorded the album with the help of The Vaccines’ Árni Árnason —an intense three-day long process set in a cramped “bunker of undisclosed location,” as they refer to it.
This indomitable work ethic stems in part from the member’s grassroots background. Holding free gigs, as Jói explains, “in somebody’s grandmother’s living room where you have to manoeuvre your guitar, so it doesn’t hit somebody” has long been the norm for Skoffín. “We’ve played the worst venues with the worst sound systems and tiny crowds,” he continues. “We’ve done all the worst things you can do with live music, but we’ve always had so much fun. I think you make the best memories in these quirky little spots that don’t quite logistically add up to a music venue.”
Hosting energetic, but somewhat makeshifts gigs has shaped the album and the band. The first three songs were initially tested out last summer during a hectic run of weekly performances. “We do these gigs first and foremost for the love of it, but they really boosted the project further,” Bjarni explains. “You can practice endlessly… but actually playing to other people is what’s really important.”
But the band has since moved on to bigger stages. In fact, if it weren’t for COVID-19, they’d be half-way through a US tour right now. As Bjarni reflects, their DIY anarchic approach to music-making may not be tenable forever. “But it’s a very important part of who we are and we will never leave this scene behind,” he concludes. “No matter what happens in the future, this scene will always be what we came from.”
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Posted July 17, 2020