Árný Margrét creates sublime, wistful songs that draw on themes of love and longing in the best tradition of heartfelt roots music. She has just returned to Reykjavík after studying abroad, and confides that she’s already missing what she describes as her “folk high school” in northern Denmark. Is that like ‘School Of Rock’, but with Bon Iver in lieu of Jack Black?
“It’s pretty fun,” says the 20-year-old from Ísafjörður. “It’s just creative. You can pick your subjects and there’s no test. I was doing songwriting and music and production. So basically making songs, and having fun with friends.”
Sounds like our kind of college. Árný Margrét had been studying the craft of folk there since early August, “but I’m cutting it short,” she announces. “Because of all this.”
A building buzz
“All this” is the bustle of activity around the talented musician as her career starts to take off. It’s the sessions at legendary recording studio Hlóðriti in Hafnarfjörður, overseen by renowned musician Guðmundur Kristinn Jónsson, (a.k.a. Kiddi). It‘s the “music business people luncheons and whatever“ that she mentions—evidence that Árný Margrét’s talent has been noticed beyond the borders of Iceland. And it’s the upcoming string of five gigs in four days, culminating in her playing at Live From Reykjavík—her highest profile show yet.
“It’s a bit scary,” she says of that concert, “because I think nobody really knows who I am. So I’m excited, but I’m still a tiny bit stressed because it’s like the first big thing to happen.”
Honing the craft
Árný Margrét’s backstory is rooted in the Westfjords, where she grew up. “My mom always wanted to go to music school, but she never had the chance,” she says. “So I think she really wanted me and my siblings to be able to go.”
The music school that mom had in mind was not the kind that you’d associate with either Jack Black or Bon Iver. Nevertheless Árný Margrét dutifully attended, tolerating formal piano lessons until the age of 14 when she got her hands on a guitar, discovered The Paper Kites and started to teach herself the folksy craft of finger picking.
Eventually ditching that music school for a regular high school, she continued developing her guitar skills until the songs started to emerge. “When I was 15 or 16 I tried to make a song,” she recalls. “At first, I was really bad at it. But then, one night, I just made two songs in maybe an hour. It was really fast and really weird, but it worked out well. And then I just started doing it more and more.”
Árný Margrét started quietly posting her creations on YouTube. She told nobody, and was mortified when a family member stumbled across them. But then her secret was out. People started to notice this shy young talent with the pure tremulous voice, gentle, accurate guitar style and an ear for a beautiful melody. And that attention eventually led to her current album recording project.
The folk keeps on coming
She remembers the first session: “I went to Kiddi’s studio and I didn’t know him then. And the thing was, I forgot all my lyrics and I had to come again!” But he was impressed with the demos that they eventually recorded together, and they could both see that a worthwhile body of work would emerge from a longer collaboration. “Kiddi was like ‘if you wanna do it, just say go’, and I was like ‘yeah, sure!’”
They’ve now recorded more than enough for an album—which will probably come out early next year—but Árný Margrét keeps on writing. And thanks to Kiddi’s contacts, there have been plenty of musicians visiting the studio to help expand on her sound. “It’s hard at first because you make it on guitar, and then you have to get used to all those instruments,” she says. “But then you’re like, ‘wow, this is a great song with all those instruments!’“
And she is now starting to feel comfortable providing direction as she crafts her songs with her collaborators. “If people want to add something to the song then we try it,” she says. ”If I like it, then we use it. But it’s my song, so I can choose what I want.“
Árný Margrét is graduating from the high school of folk into the real world of folk, armed with a solid musical talent and a folder bursting with freshly-minted songs, (assuming she hasn’t left it at home).
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