Markús Bjarnason - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Markús Bjarnason

Markús Bjarnason

Published January 11, 2008

Congratulations on topping our list for album of the year.
Thank you. I was convinced, of course, like the other two times I’ve put out a record, that this was the best record in the world.
Naturally. Did you work on this album for long?
Yes, we did have some time to digest this one. It took us a long time to write the material and to play it until we got rid of the rough edges, but we recorded it in two sessions. First we recorded the foundation during one weekend in a summer house out in the country. A few months later we recorded the overdub and vocals. Since this was all done on the side, it took a few months to put it all together. A weekend here and a weekend there. I moved to the Faroe Islands to work just before the album was released, so when it finally came out, they recruited Reykjavík and Jan Mayen to cover the songs for the release concert.
So you were living in the Faroe Islands? That must have made it hard to play shows to promote the album?
Yes, I came home two months after the album came out and then we really started to promote the album with a new guitarist, Kolbeinn, who joined the band then to replace Ólafur Steinsson who moved to California before the album came out. He just recorded the stuff and moved. His wife made the artwork for the album, so it took some time to get that done as well. We had grand plans for a tour of the U.S. to go and visit Ólafur, but we encountered so many delays that it didn’t pan out, so that gave us more time to digest it. But, I think also, the delays meant that once it came out, everyone was fully loaded and rearing to go.
How has the album been received?
Ridiculously well; at least I think so. Maybe because we play a lot of shows and give it our all when we play, we have managed to build up some momentum around us and this material. It would be very easy to dismiss this album, so I’ve been very surprised at how many people from different directions seem to have caught on to it.
It is a little quirky and it did take me a while to get into it, but it grows on you. Was this something you set out to do?
This was just the material we had at hand, we couldn’t really manipulate it much, so it wasn’t very planned. It is just when people like us come together to make music over a long period of time, writing songs that may take a year to complete and trying different parts together, it may sound a bit odd at first, and it feels a bit odd when you are writing it, but I think that is what we thrive on as a band. To make music that you haven’t heard anywhere else. Something that turns you on and makes you say ‘damn, that’s strange,’ then that is something we try to expand on. A lot of these songs sound like ordinary pop songs to us, but we stay with it because it may contain a harder chapter later.
So you set out to do something a little offcentre?
Yes, well, we allow what might surprise you. I don’t know when it started, but we have all been in different bands before that played a little experimental music, but in this band, on this record, it just all came together in a way that doesn’t sound too arty or too pretentious, or just plainly too boring. This is not an album that is written for the 1% that likes to experiment. There is a lot of pop influence on this record as well. But the main idea is to allow the surprises to go in. But really, we owe it to our friends Bjarni and Ingi who recorded and mixed the album. This comes through on the record because if you are dealing with ‘difficult’ or ‘offcentre’ music and the sound is not good, then it’s game over. But we were lucky to work with good people.
Is there a new album on the horizon?
We have just applied for sponsorship from the Icelandic Music Fund to record an E.P. with two or three songs. We would prefer to record two or three new songs rather than focus on a full-length album just now. That might take us more time.
You released the album yourselves, didn’t you?
We released it ourselves in cooperation with Smekkleysa. They take care of the distribution in Iceland. We have a little label that is called Grandmother’s Records, which has previously also released bands Sofandi and Graveslime, so there is a tradition for using that name; we have also produced shows under that name. But there is no structure around it. There is no one working for us promoting the album. But we are lucky that [guitarist] Benni has been working for Smekkleysa so he is around the computer to maintain our Myspace.com site. But I am really pleased with the new label in Akureyri, Kimi Records, that is an indie label that is still not too indie to put an effort into what they are doing. I think it is great that someone has the ambition to do something like that. But this is just a very dysfunctional business. I am just happy that I have not gone insane. I am always convinced that we are making great music and great records, but when you have made a few records and nobody agrees, you start to doubt yourself, so I am just really happy to hear that somebody agrees with me.
Skátar hasn’t played many shows recently, has it?
No, we played a lot just after I got home, for a few months, and then around Airwaves, where we were playing pretty much the same set we have been playing for two years. Since we added Kolbeinn on guitar, we have only been able to rehearse the set with him, although we have a lot more material. We decided to take a little break from playing live to be able to rehearse more songs with him and write a few new songs. But also, we just wanted to give other bands an opportunity to shine as well.
I wanted to ask you about the white overalls you always play in, what is the deal with that?
I am really the wrong person to answer that question, because that tradition started before I joined the band. I think the deal was that they wanted to play in some kind of uniform, and this was the most economical solution. Then it just sort of stuck. The overalls are very warm, and we play a lot better in them than without them, at least to begin with. But we premiered new uniforms at last year’s Airwaves: golden latex pants. We are very pleased with them.

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