From Iceland — Högni Egilsson

Högni Egilsson

Published March 7, 2008

Högni Egilsson

So, you’re nominated as songwriter andsinger of the year at the IMAs. Hjaltalín, yourband, was also nominated for song and recordof the year, as well as the Brightest Hopeaward. But how do you respond to the nominationspersonally? Do you hold one awardin higher regard than the others?

No, not really. We were abroad when we heard thenews, so it wasn’t like I was watching the news andheard Páll Magnússon saying my name, it wasn’tlike that. I think it’s kind of strangely funny thatI was nominated as singer of the year. It’s somethingthat comes as a bit of a surprise, and is sortof… not something I would have expected a yearand a half ago.

Why’s that?
No it’s just that, this is the kind of nomination thatthe big-time singers get; Björgvin and Páll Óskar,Bubbi and Garðar Þór Cortes and so on. It’s funnyto single me out as a singer because I’ve never reallyseen myself as such. I’m in a choir, and wasin one in high school for a long time, and I knowthat, you know, not everyone thought it was reallycool to be in the choir at MH.

Not cool?
No. I mean, yeah it was of course really cool, youknow, but naturally there were some hotshotswho made fun of it, including some guys like theguys in Sprengjuhöllin. It’s damn good to have thisnomination for their sake, to sort of make fun ofthem.

When I interviewed the band right beforeAirwaves last year, your bassist, GuðmundurÓskar, said that the size of your group explainsto a certain extent why your songs areso long and contain so many diverse chapters.You compose and arrange for all theseinstruments and this big group, which mustbe a challenging task. Do you try to managebeforehand the length or size of the arrangementor song?
Not exactly. I don’t think it’s completely accurateto say that the length of the songs correlates tothe number of members; it’s not pandering to thatnumber of people, having the song as long as possible.It’s mostly just thickening the web of sound.The number of instruments gives more options increating a varied musical texture. It doesn’t have alot to do with length. It’s not like, ok now we haveto have a chapter for the bassoon.

But you are influenced by the musicianswhen you’re creating a song. It’s not like youcome in with a concrete plan and say, “Ok,I’ve written a song, it’s six minutes long andyou are going to do this.”
It varies. The easiest method in all this is writingnotes. Of course it’s possible that something greatand original will come up if people are put togetherfor some time in a group and they make somethingwithout having decided beforehand whatthey’re going to do, but that also calls for a kindof communal thought process that takes time todevelop and ripen. It’s not a very prolific work processto have everyone somehow conspiring. Butwith notes or something, you’ve laid some kindof plan that you can build on. Then it works as akind of frame, both for the musicians and the songitself. The instrumentalists can then take this linethat’s been decided and make something out of itand spin something around it. It’s not as though Iwrite notes for everyone in the band. It’s mostlyjust coming up with something to spark somethingoff. I see it that way rather, that the notes andthe arrangements are just to ignite something, andout of that we make a base and from that we canbuild even further.

Is there a song on your new record that you’reparticularly happy with? Something that wasmaybe especially memorable to write?

I like the idea of hand-crafting, of the handiworkof a song, or some kind of handiwork in art. Andwhen things work on paper really well, and whenthings are put together in a really, well I won’t saycomplicated, but in a somewhat elaborate way.Like when there are several groups of instrumentsput together, and out of it comes a kind of a thickweb, a web of sound, which is kind of difficultto make, but with the right devices and the righttechnical execution it’s possible. You have maybedrums, bass, guitar, violin, singing, clarinet, bassoon,brass, a choir and this thick sound comesout of it, and nothing gets tangled, there’s a trick tothat too. But I think it works especially well in onesong on the record, which is called Selur. There’sa pretty thick sound, with a choir and a varietyof instruments, and there’s a kind of raging powerin it. There are several songs like that, not all, butthere are some. There are about five songs on therecord that have that sound.

And does that come about with just constantworking and reworking the songs? Aimingfor these large and intricate weavings?
Yeah, it was a little bit like that. There was a kind ofmantra following the record which was that “moreis the new less.” Just really not holding back withideas about letting things have wiggle room, notsome kind of minimalism. We were really trying togo as big as possible.

I understand that you get most of your lyricsfrom sources outside the band. Is it right toassume then that the music is written beforeand perhaps with little regard to the lyrics?
Yes, the music is written before the lyrics, andconsequently the music does not really stem fromthe lyrics. Instead, the words become essentiallyjust another layer, a specific timbre on top of everythingelse, all the other colours. Which I thinkis in itself a kind of interesting concept. There’s somuch going on, and always some lines going allover the place, so somehow the attention doesn’tget directed towards the lyrics, instead they blendreally well into this world of sound.

How do you view their importance then, thewords in your songs?
I think it’s important that they work, that theysound good. This episode with meaning in lyrics,or some kind of narrative thing, that has justbeen taken out. It was kind of considered on anaesthetic level. We couldn’t put a lot of drive intomeaning in the text that was never there.

So what happens now, in the aftermath of recentlyreleasing your first album? Have youstarted working on the next one?
No, not at all. It would be great to put out anotherrecord right away. It’s kind of uncool to wait a reallylong time and to make a big deal out of it,always to be making some kind of masterpiece.Mostly it’s just really fun to work with a lot of instruments,to have a twelve-person group playingsome chords. And writing for that, and conductingit, and recording it, it’s just so much fun. A lotmore fun than some acoustic guitar record witha couple of melodies. I think it’s really amazingwhen that works, like some musicians who dothat, like Ólöf Arnalds and others, who are justalone but somehow manage to expand that, youknow, to widen that form. It’s really impressive,but it’s something that I haven’t really masteredyet. I think in the meanwhile I’m just going to tryto work on the other route that I’ve taken, try totackle that in the interim.

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