From Iceland — The Full Spectrum Of Life: A New Day For Hipsumhaps

The Full Spectrum Of Life: A New Day For Hipsumhaps

The Full Spectrum Of Life: A New Day For Hipsumhaps

Published July 7, 2021

Photo by
Svavar Pétur Eysteinsson

Hipsumhaps first made a splash on the Icelandic music scene in 2019 with their first album, ‘Best Gleymdu Leyndarmálin’ (‘Best Forgotten Secrets’), bringing dreamy, guitar-driven indie pop to a scene that had all but forgotten about the genre. At the time, the project was comprised of Fannar Ingi Friðþjófsson and Jökull Breki Arnarson. One pandemic (and several other life-changing events) later, Hipsumhaps is now solely Fannar and the new album, ‘Lög síns tíma’ (‘Songs of the times’), is in limbo as he struggles to be released from his contract with the Record Records label.

In the midst of this, Fannar took the time to reflect on where the project came from, where he hopes to take it, and the challenges both personal and professional that have brought Hipsumhaps to this point.

Big brother

Fannar readily admits that, as much as he loves making music, the process has always been a bit of an uphill battle for him.

“I lacked a background in music,” he tells us. “I had maybe too high hopes for myself, and technically I didn’t know anything. And I don’t know—still don’t know—what I’m doing on the guitar. I don’t know which chords I’m playing or which notes I’m singing. But I had been working in film and as a creative director in advertising. I had a lot of work experience from there, just in how to pitch and produce it, and then publish it. Of course I have a promotional skill set, but I used the same work ethic to do a song as to produce an ad. I just switch out the ingredients. I can go really personal in it, but I can also go outside of it and look at it as an observer.”

When I point out that many great musicians past and present also lack the technical and theoretical knowledge of music, Fannar seems almost relieved to hear it.

“I used the same work ethic to do a song as to produce an ad. I just switch out the ingredients. I can go really personal in it, but I can also go outside of it and look at it as an observer.”

“The project started with me and a friend, who I met when I was his boss at [a youth centre] in Álftanes in 2013,” he says. “We decided to make music together. We’d been friends for many years and I’d been like a role model to him in a certain way. Kind of like a big brother to him.”

For Fannar, it was a fortuitous pairing, as he needed someone with extensive production experience to make his music a reality.

“He had been doing hip hop music, and he had also been doing some music in his school, Verzlunarskóli,” Fannar says. “So I knew he had production talent. We were on the same page; just trying to slow down our lives and figure out what we wanted to do. I had been wanting to do music for so many years, writing so much music and lyrics over the years, and then everything just kind of popped in 2018. We started recording and then a year later we released our first album.”

Best Forgotten Secrets

Unlike many musicians, Fannar ambitions weren’t so much taking over the world as they were just getting the first album completed.

“I was so happy with just finishing the first album,” he says. “That was enough for me. I have pretty basic goals. Like that it would be awesome to get on the radio, with one song maybe, and play at Airwaves and play a full show for my friends. It turned out we had five songs on the radio, I played at Airwaves both on- and off-venue to a full house, we had two release concerts, then we got the nominations for the music awards. So I felt really recognised. That exceeded my expectations … because I really just wanted to do stuff that me and Jökull liked.”

The album was indeed a hit with the Icelandic public, who were clearly hungry for their sound. Again, Fannar downplays his obvious talent by emphasising his lack of technical skill.

“I had music and lyrics upfront, so it was pure production mode when we met,” he says. “Except for two songs. I have always been kind of shy playing guitar. I’m not really good on click tracks. I can’t sing and play guitar at the same time yet. I don’t really have the coordination yet. But I like to see myself as a frontman; someone who sings and barely plays an instrument.”

Enter the virus

2019 may have been a banner year for Hipsumhaps but, as for so many other creatives, the year that followed changed everything.

“I started feeling after the first shows that I wanted to have more songs to play live,” Fannar recalls. “It was like we played nine songs, 36 minutes of music, and then we had to play the first song again. The people wanted more, because the shows were always packed. So in February 2020, we were going to have a show in Gamla Bíó, it was going to be the cap of the first album and then we were going to go into recording mode, play the summer shows we had [booked], but not really push ourselves into the spotlight; not doing interviews or the regular PR stuff. But then this pandemic happened, then everything kind of [went] bust. I felt like some opportunities were going away that were never going to come back, because that’s just the way it is in music. You’re [the] flavour of the month and then a year later you’re not so relevant anymore.”

The lockdown prompted Fannar to look inwards and to devote himself full-time to his art.

“The quarantine just made me crazy,” he says. “I’ve been living inside a 10-track album for almost a year now. I’m focused, but then I’m also obsessed. I’ve been enjoying myself a lot. I took a decision at the beginning of this year not to work on anything but my music, which didn’t make any sense in terms of finance, but I felt that I’m never going to get this opportunity again. I just felt the momentum of having something precious like this album, and not being able to do my best if I were working nine-to-five and then producing the album or a video [in the evening]. I’ve done that before, with the first album and it just drains you. I’ve been doing that for half a year, I released the album and now I’m back at my old job with the kids, who I love working with. My tightest and best audience, my top fans. I am a star in Álftanes.”

“Bringing people together to celebrate the full spectrum of life, to get the most grand experience out of this music. That’s what I’m really excited about.”

Even so, quarantine has made Fannar a bit anxious, as for him, music is very much about establishing a connection with others.

“We’re having a free show this Friday,” he says. “It doesn’t make any sense for me to have a free show; I need money. But I need to feel that connection again, I need to know: who’s listening? Is this relevant? I have no connection with my audience anymore. I feel like some digital item right now. So now I’m anxious about who’s going to come to our shows. Do people even go to shows anymore? Are shows relevant?”

Turn and face the strange

One of the bigger challenges about making ‘Lög síns tíma’ was making the decision to go it alone; a decision that, although hard to make, did not damage his friendship with Jökull.

“I told Jökull that I was going to be more of a frontman of the project, because we were in different places in life,” he says. “He’s seven years younger than me and needed to finish some other stuff, and I kind of felt like our friendship was [taking] second place, but I really wanted our friendship to rule our relationship. The shift from being a role model to being a co-worker in a band with a person, it’s two different things. I felt like there was becoming some intensity between us and I really didn’t like it. So I really wanted to clear the room of that intensity. He took it like a champ. He totally understood what I was talking about. Our friendship has survived. We’ve known each other for such a long time. Everything will be OK.”

With that, he became hyper-focused on making the project work.

“I set some expectations for myself for [‘Lög síns tíma’],” he says. ”That’s the biggest factor in the whole process—expectations to create something beautiful. I knew how the album was going to begin and how it was going to end. I kind of knew the track list, but didn’t have all the lyrics ready. I’ve never been used to working under pressure with writing lyrics. So I really became obsessed with my own lyrics; I had so many ideas for them.”

Bombing at stand-up and ADHD

For a man as soft-spoken as Fannar, performing didn’t exactly come naturally, but he received an education on it through an unusual source: stand-up comedy. Though technically a failure, the experience did impart valuable lessons.

“I did stand-up back in 2012 and 2013,” he recalls. “The first set went super good, and I became obsessed with jokes and what’s funny. Everything felt funny, it became a huge issue for me to know what’s a bit and what’s not. There was really no stand-up environment in Iceland at the time. Me and my friends hosted a comedy show at [the now defunct] Faktorý in 2012, which went really well. Then we didn’t do a show for a year, did another in 2013, at Stúdentagarðurinn—a full house—and I bombed so hard. Like it was the worst feeling ever.

“It probably took me like five years to get over that night. It was the ultimate failure. I blacked out on stage, there were no laughs, I felt like getting off the stage as soon as possible. So [with] going into music and performing music, I was like ‘OK I think I’ve experienced the worst that can really happen as a showperson.’

“So I’m really proud of that experience. It’s helped me prepare myself better before shows. But I’m still learning, because my biggest fear is forgetting the lyrics. I’m not good with lyrics, even my own lyrics. I have ADHD; I can just drift away in some cases, even while playing and singing.”

Despite the challenges that ADHD may pose, Fannar has come to see it as a gift.

“The great thing about ADHD is it’s a strength in most situations in life for me,” he says. “When I like doing something, I really, really like doing something. I’m hyper-focused, almost obsessed. I only got the diagnosis last September and I decided that I didn’t want to start medication until I finished the album. But I was so bad with sleep over the winter that I started taking Concerta. I took it for like a month but I had so many headaches, so I quit it, and now I’m not really sure what my stance is in this medication realm. I just try to be active; exercise, play golf, to breathe.”

An album in limbo

The first track on ‘Lög síns tíma,’ “2021”, is not an easy listen. It’s a grand opener, a perfect jumping off point for the rest of the album, but it contains samples of news broadcasts over the past year that reflect the anxious, uncertain time that 2020 was.

“I wanted to set the scene for today’s news,” he says. “We’ve never been so attached to the news as we are today. Our eyes [are] stuck to the news and we know everything that’s happening in like five minutes. We got the thumbs up from RÚV to use the samples.”

When told that listening to the song nearly induced a panic attack in this reporter, he laughs, and seems pleased with this almost certainly intended effect.

“This album has been a huge learning curve,” he admits. “I was really happy with the recordings. But with the release, it’s not been as smooth, because I just had a really big fight with the producer of the album. It’s not that the music wasn’t good, but in my gut it felt like a failure, because our connection had gone away and it had to do with money, songwriting credits and all that kind of stuff. So all of the sudden we were just fighting over things. That really took so much energy out of the process. But we’re working on getting our relationship back on track and that means more to me than the music being successful.”

“The great thing about ADHD is it’s a strength in most situations in life for me.”

However, the album itself was in a state of legal limbo for a while. Fannar is trying to be released from his contract with his label, Record Records, but they took the album down from Spotify. It was a fight that hit Fannar hard, but he was determined to see his way to the end.

Haraldur Leví Gunnarsson, the head of Record Records, recently told Vísir that while Hipsumhaps does own the rights to the recordings and the music, it’s the label that has the rights on the album itself, and is therefore fully within its rights to pull the album. While Fannar’s lawyer, Jón Gunnar Ásbjörnsson, has argued that Fannar has every right to end his contract with Record Records and still owns the full rights to his music, the matter is not yet settled and has taken an emotional toll on Fannar.

“It’s a really sad situation in the history of Icelandic music,” Fannar says. “I feel like the system is once again fucking me up. I put one stroke of a pen on a contract and got nothing back. Right now, after getting through COVID and finally finding myself again in life, putting everything I’ve got into this year—I’m producing and financing all this by myself—I’m trying to walk away from the table peacefully, because I feel like I didn’t get good enough service. There was poor communication and no money changed hands. I feel like I don’t even want to do music or hold concerts. That’s just how it is. But it’s a question of attitude and trying to find a silver lining in all this. I have so many mixed feelings about this right now that it’s hard to make a definitive statement about all this.”

Happily, the album is now back on Spotify, and can be enjoyed at last.

The connection

Fannar has his eyes firmly set on the future, as he looks towards what it will bring Hipsumhaps and him personally.

“I feel like there’s so much left for this album,” he says. “Basically, every live performance for this and the last album. I feel like everything is left to be done, because this is live music. That’s the way I see it. I just want to bring people together.”

As such, he’s taking his project on the road, eager to reconnect with the masses.

“We’re going to tour around Iceland. Every weekend we’re going to have two shows. I decided before this album that I was going to do a double-digit tracklist, so I made ten tracks. I wanted to release three music videos; I’ve produced five. And I want to play a live show at Harpa … now we have a show at Harpa on November 12th. That’s what this album is about for me—bringing people together to celebrate the full spectrum of life, to get the most grand experience out of this music. That’s what I’m really excited about—and after that, I’ll probably have nothing left.”

Whatever may come of the album, it seems like nothing is going to stop Fannar. The music will go on, or at least his desire for connection will remain the driving force in his life.

“I felt a year ago that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do music anymore,” he says. “It was just a shock to see that I gave my all in the first album and then everything vanished… I’m turning 30 this year and I felt the pressure of settling down, you know, getting my finances straight. I had this perfect mixture of teaching and doing music, but then both were taken away from me. I felt really low on energy and I wasn’t really sure if I had the guts and mind to do another album, to move on with this. What changed my mind was getting my head out of the sand and just moving on.”

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