The Reykjavík Grapevine’s Musician of the Year, Svavar Pétur Eysteinsson — better known by his stage persona, Prins Póló — died on the 29th of September, 2022. He was 45 years old.
A proud native of Breiðhólt, Svavar first made his debut in the Reykjavík music scene in the early 2000s as part of bands like Rúnk and Skakkamange. Even at this early juncture of his career, his presence as an artist, as well as his unwavering commitment to the pursuit of ideas impressed his peers.
“I don’t remember when I first met Svavar,” says artist and musician Loji Höskuldsson, who was a member of Prins Póló’s band. “But I remember watching him play with his band Skakkamange, and I was starstruck from that moment.”
“Let’s make a band together!”
By comparison, accordionist Margrét Arnardóttir has a very strong memory of meeting Svavar when they were both playing at the same music festival in 2015.
“We just started talking and he’s like, ‘let’s just make a band together! Let’s just make a band! There’s so many musicians here — he’s a drummer and he plays bass and let’s just, you know! You start by leading the accordion band and I start leading with Prins Póló. You just play and I’ll just shout out the chords.’”
Margrét laughs: “It was amazing and it’s kind of stereotypical Svavar.”
During this time, Svavar also met the woman who would quickly become his wife — and creative partner — Berglind Häsler.
“We met in 2003… or four,” Berglind laughs, a little fuzzy on the details of what was a heady time of music, arts, friends and parties. “We dated for six months, and then we got married — we were just a tight couple ever since.”
Havari-ing a ball
Berglind would go on to play with Svavar in his various bands, and the pair swiftly became known as a cultural power couple. This was further cemented when they were invited to run Havarí, a record store / venue / arts space in downtown Reykjavík.
“It was hard to leave Seyðisfjörður [where they were living at the time],” says Berglind. “But we were always about new ideas and new things, so we just said, let’s give it a try.”
“It was the place where you met all of your colleagues, all of the other musicians and bands,” says Loji, of the space.
Making space for others
Over time, Havari developed into an important touchstone within the cultural geography of the city, hosting concerts, art exhibitions, recording sessions and much more. Svavar’s friend and fellow musician, Bóas Hallgrímsson, has one particularly fond memory from a Record Store Day concert at the venue that sums up both Svavar’s creativity and his genuine interest in making space for others:
“There was a packed schedule that day,” explains Bóas. “Sometimes there were concerts in Hvavari where there were not so many attendees, but this was like the polar opposite: the store was completely full, there were people in the street and there was a lot of commotion going on — a fun concert.”
“For some reason, my son — who was like the shyest individual I know — gets the idea that he wants to perform,” he continues.
Bóas, aware of the fact that the venue was heaving and that the gig was already running late, tried to put his son off the idea. Finding his dad unresponsive to his plan, the kid went straight to Svavar.
“It was such a Svavar thing,” says Bóas. “Even though there was a tight schedule, the place was packed with people, he was like, ‘that’s a fantastic idea!’”
Bóas explains how Svavar brought his then eight year old son on stage, lowered the microphone and told him he had five minutes to perform whatever he wanted.
“At the end he [his son] received a standing applause,” Bóas remembers. “It was just such a Svavar moment.”
From music to…hot dogs?
Havari closed in 2011, a victim to the endless desire for more hotels in Reykjavík. Berglind and Svavar considered other spaces in the city, but ultimately decided to leave the capital and head east. They purchased the farm Karlsstaðir, which became the new Havari, and the birthplace of what was perhaps Svavar’s wildest idea of all: Bulsur.
Kristján Freyr Halldórsson remembers when he first heard of his friend’s plan to make his own vegan hot dogs: “He told me, ‘if I miss one thing out of eating meat, it’s the hot dog, and I really have to do something about it.’
So began the trials — and errors — of Svavar’s hot dog experimentation.
“I was with Svavar in a studio in Skúlagata,” reminisces Svavar’s bandmate Benedikt Hermann Hermannsson. “I remember he was working on “París norðursins,” recording all the songs. And then all of a sudden, he got like a stomach cramp. Like, ‘oh, it’s killing me.’ I was like, what’s wrong? Have you got the flu or something? ‘No, I’ve been making this vegan hotdogs…’”
Berglind chuckles at the memory: “Our house smelt of barley for three years after this,” she says.
The Prins of the people
But of course, it is Svavar’s musical output — predominantly as Prins Póló — that the public will remember him for most. In particular, his ability to shed light on the commonplace, and somehow make it beautiful.
“Some people call his lyrics a little naive,” says Bóas Hallgrímsson, Svavar’s friend and fellow musician. “But I think they were deep in their naivety. They were on mundane subjects often but still, there was something touching in almost all of the lyrics.”
“I’m just really glad that he asked me to take part in the Prins Póló adventure,” says Kristján. “I’m just really grateful to have had that opportunity to get to work with him.”
“He had this drive,” Berglind shares. “You know, if he had an idea, he had to finish it — and he did, he sure finished a lot.”
“Every morning, he woke up with a new idea,” She continues. “What I’m going to miss most are his calls. I would always get the feeling like, oh this is this sort of phone call.” She laughs: “You know, ‘Hi, I have an idea!’ And I would be like, oh boy…Kids, start packing!”
In Svavar’s own words, from an interview with this paper in 2013: “It doesn’t make a difference if I’m making an album or a poster or sausages, it’s just about creating.”
Article compiled by Josie Gaitens from an interview and conversation conducted and moderated by Bóas Hallgrímsson.
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