From Iceland — The Sweaty Musical Armpit

The Sweaty Musical Armpit

Published July 15, 2008

The Sweaty Musical Armpit
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This summer marks the advent of two exciting releases from two of the scene’s youngest and most promising rock bands. The sophomore release from Mammút, whose 2006 debut corresponds to the founding of their compeers Slugs; the debut album from the latter is expected to be released by the end of the month. The Grapevine sat down with Teitur and Geirharður of Slugs, and members of Mammút, Alexandra, Ása, and Kata to discuss the grunt of young rock in Reykjavík.


THE GRAPEVINE: Since the first record came out in 2006, you’ve had a change in your line-up, switching out your bassist for Ása. Other than the logistics, or perhaps because of them, have there been any other changes within the band?
ALEXANDRA: Maybe just that when we started we were more just like acquaintances; we didn’t know each other extremely well. Since then we’ve travelled overseas and been together a significant amount of time, so we’ve become more like best friends.
ÁSA: More like a whole.
ALEXANDRA: So we’re also maybe more honest and forthright with each other when we’re writing songs.
ÁSA: We can fight and still be O.K.
KATA: I think that really comes out on this new record. We’ve become a lot closer and I think the music has changed because of it. Also this new record has all these crazy pop-speculations. I think it’s very poppy, or at least, much more poppy than the first one.
ALEXANDRA: Right before we went into the studio we were really thinking that the record would be too heavy, too hard, because there were some melodies that weren’t completely finished and such. But that changed really quickly as soon as we started recording.

You hadn’t planned to make it lighter when you entered the studio; it just sort of evolved that way?
KATA: Yes.
ÁSA: In a completely positive way.
KATA: We had somehow decided that this record would be really heavy but then somehow our minds changed mid-process and it just started getting more and more poppy.

THE GRAPEVINE: Since you formed the band right before Músíktilraunir 2004, and since you released your first record 2006, how have your expectations as a band changed?
ALEXANDRA: It’s always somehow been just one step at a time. We started with trying to win some song competition, and then that was the biggest feat we could imagine, and then it turned into competing in Músíktilraunir.
KATA: And when we competed in Músíktilraunir and won, you know, we hadn’t even started dreaming of giving out a record, and then once we did that, then that was the absolute best we could ever do, we couldn’t go any higher than that. Now we’ve topped ourselves again, and we’re giving out another record, but now maybe we’re allowing ourselves slightly higher expectations, it just comes with the territory I think.
ALEXANDRA: We’ve been such a luck band, or at least I feel like we’ve achieved a lot compared to how we…
ÁSA: Suck?
ALEXANDRA: Compared to how incredibly un-diligent we are at promoting ourselves. There has been a lot that just sort of fell into our hands and people have had contact with us…

THE GRAPEVINE: Well you’ve had some experience playing abroad and with foreign journalists who have received you well. Are you not thinking in terms of exporting yourselves or your music?
ÁSA: We really want to go on tour, just something small. Maybe around Europe or the States.
ALEXANDRA: Either way really, I mean if it was offered to us, of course.
ÁSA: We want just as much to tour Iceland; I think that would be hugely fun. Like at first, we were going to have the record in English, and then all of a sudden we realised, no, we speak Icelandic, we’ll sing in Icelandic. KATA: And also it just wasn’t coming out naturally in English.
ÁSA: We were just thinking of how it could be received abroad, and of course you shouldn’t think that way.

THE GRAPEVINE: So you trust in the scene here, in Reykjavík, as far as the reception and all that? It is enough?
ÁSA: Yeah, except of course there’s not a lot of money in it.
KATA: Also, with playing just forever in Reykjavík, especially when you’ve been playing here a lot… because you’re not usually playing some fancy concert with good sound, you’re playing at Bar 11 where you can’t hear anyone and everything is really sketchy and there are guys on speed trying to head-butt you and stuff.  So you know, that’s maybe also something that tickles you, as far as going abroad, that you want to sort of…
ÁSA: Try something new.
KATA: Yeah, get fresh ears to listen, you know.
ALEXANDRA: That was exactly the case with a concert we played at Organ last week, because our single [Svefnsýkt] has been in frequent play on X-ið, and we played this concert, and we hadn’t played in a long time, and all of a sudden we were seeing these new faces. The majority of the people there were people that we had never seen before, just people who listen to X-ið at work or something.
ÁSA: It was so funny because they sort of didn’t know how to act, like when everyone was getting a beer before the concert started, they were just standing there,
ALEXANDRA: You could kind of tell apart the people who frequent concerts and the people who don’t.
ÁSA: Not the usual concert rats.
ALEXANDRA: Which was a lot of fun.
ÁSA: Crazy fun.

I think it’s interesting that you have a majority of girls in your band, that there are three of you considering how few women there are generally in bands here, especially rock bands. There are women in the pop and electronica scene a little bit, but in rock bands there are very few. What are your thoughts as to why that is?
ÁSA: Maybe just shyness or something. It’s such like, a sausage fest.
KATA: Yeah I think it’s something like that.
ÁSA: But I mean, I think every girl wants to be in a band.
ALEXANDRA: It’s much easier than it looks.
KATA: When we formed our band we were just three girls starting out and we weren’t thinking of ourselves as a rock band more than anything else, but then we started thinking why girls aren’t more in rock bands. That’s just something really strange, why that isn’t the case.
ALEXANDRA: I don’t know if it plays into it at all, but in the scene that we’re playing in there is of course a lot of mess and a lot of partying and a lot of hassle. Like the way it is in Reykjavík you have to be your own roadie and you’re essentially just paying to be in a band. Paying for rehearsal space and equipment and all that. It’s a lot of…
ÁSA: Hassle.
THE GRAPEVINE: And girls are less interested in hassle than boys?
ÁSA: Yeah (laughs)
ALEXANDRA: Yeah, maybe it’s just that some girls don’t want to bother dealing with the hassle of this penis-rock scene. And I mean you don’t necessarily get a lot more out of playing than maybe you know, three beers at the bar, or something.
ÁSA: Or not.
ALEXANDRA: Or not. Mostly not.


THE GRAPEVINE: When and how did the band form?
GEIRHARÐUR: The band formed in 2006 with the intention of making Rockabilly music. That went horribly wrong and out of it came this outrage that we have on the record. At first it was just me and Sindri and Heisi, just a guitar, singing and drums, and we composed maybe five songs or something. Sindri tried playing the bass while he sang, and then at our second or third concert he did that, and Teitur saw that concert and thought it was ridiculous that Sindri was stuck to the mic-stand because he had been used to running all over the place raising hell. He voiced that and then it occurred to us that it was opportune that Teitur play the bass, and it worked out pretty well.

THE GRAPEVINE: What about the name, where does it come from?
GEIRHARÐUR: It comes originally from a movie called Slugs, which is about man-eating slugs. We decided that it was a good name when we discovered that this word can have many alternate meanings. We found that refreshing and then it wasn’t until later that we realise that it works in Icelandic too, then we started calling ourselves Slugs [with an Icelandic accent].
TEITUR: It can mean a snail; it can mean a sledgehammer….
GEIRHARÐUR: It can also mean like a bullet, and a shot glass maybe, but that may not be right.
TEITUR: And then just to be a sluggard, essentially to loaf.

THE GRAPEVINE: Up to this point, how active have you been as a band as far as playing and performing? Have you been playing more in anticipation of the record?
TEITUR: We took a stretch in the spring where we were playing maybe two or three times a week. We’re going to play in the east and north between July 10–20, at the festivals Eistnaflug and LungA, among others.

THE GRAPEVINE: How has the reception been? Where has it been particularly good?
TEITUR: The reception’s been respectable, generally. Especially at Bar 11, and Dillon. Not at Kaffi Rót.
TEITUR: Kaffi Rót is a shit-place.
Just completely, horrible atmosphere there.
TEITUR: Kaffi Krókur was also a kind of interesting place. That was more of like… we were for show, that we were just some kind of freaks. Because everyone just sat in their seats and stared at us.
GEIRHARÐUR: And looked at us with a kind of… some with a look of wonder, many with a look of disdain, and then there were a few people milling about with some mixture of the two.
TEITUR: We started the concert by breaking some tables, accidentally, and then spilling beer all over, right into people’s faces. Then we played and after we left the place burned down.

THE GRAPEVINE: Like, directly thereafter?
TEITUR: Well, like maybe a week later.
GEIRHARÐUR: That place had seen its most beautiful flower.
TEITUR: So I think we held the last concert there.

THE GRAPEVINE: Do you see yourselves as filling some void in the scene?
TEITUR: Yeah, there’s maybe a vacancy that forms when bands try to follow some scene, and that’s kind of what happens, when everyone chooses some trend to follow, before they’ve really even formed the band. There’s a void for freshness.
GEIRHARÐUR: Like if we had for example succeeded in making rockabilly music, we maybe wouldn’t be standing out in any way, but there’s still enough going on here, I don’t know if I can elaborate on it in any way that I care to attempt but… if it’s so that there is a need for bands that are doing just whatever comes naturally out of them, then we are filling some void, otherwise we’re just…
TEITUR: Stagnant.
GEIRHARÐUR: Yes, treading water.

THE GRAPEVINE: What expectations do you have for your success?

THE GRAPEVINE: Are you just fooling around?
TEITUR: No, absolutely not. We’re completely serious about what we’re doing, but we have no expectations.
GEIRHARÐUR: Most of us have learned through the years to try to minimise our expectations towards people.
TEITUR: But we do actually have the expectation of receiving equal coverage to everyone else. If a reviewer is unhappy with the record then we would rather they give us zero stars than some two. If they want to give us zero then they should give us zero. We don’t want to get something like, “Hey, you did a nice job here, good first try,” or “it will be fun to see what these guys do in the future.” No, I don’t want any of that, I just want to hear, “you guys shat on yourselves, better luck next time, go to hell” or something like that.
GEIRHARÐUR: It’s much better to be crapped on than to hear that you’re doing good things. I think it’s like that with most of the music that I find most enjoyable, that people tend to have very divided and strong opinions on the band. In my opinion it’s a very good sign for a band if there are some people who hate it, just as it’s a good sign if someone likes it.

So you’re asking that you be crapped on if you deserve it?
GEIRHARÐUR: If someone who listens to the record thinks it deserves it, I hope they’ll let themselves be heard.
[Guðmundur Einar enters] GUÐMUNDUR: What do you think about saying: an old legend tells of Fjörulalli. I really wanted to talk about Fjörulalli, I think it would be really funny in English… “Old Icelandic folklore, something… talks about the Fjord Lalli.”
GEIRHARÐUR: Are you talking about folklore or are you just making it up?
GUÐMUNDUR: You’ve never heard of the Fjord Lalli?
GUÐMUNDUR: It’s some kind of man who walks around the shore and has a cloven foot if I remember correctly.
TEITUR: Then we have to connect it to us. “He was known for being a slug.”
GUÐMUNDUR: Or he was known for eating children that slugged.
GEIRHARÐUR: Yes exactly, that’s what I want to hear.
GUÐMUNDUR: [in scary voice] “and he ate children that slugged”
TEITUR: And that is precisely what these men do, that are living.

THE GRAPEVINE: Just so we have it clear, what exactly do you do in the band Guðmundur?
TEITUR: He’s our new manager.

THE GRAPEVINE: Officially?

THE GRAPEVINE: As their new unofficial manager/spokesman/enthusiast, what do you think of Slugs, Guðmundur? Why are you interested in working with them?
GUÐMUNDUR: What I think Slugs have, first and foremost, is some kind of unharnessed energy of the Icelandic forces of nature, that somehow doesn’t manage to appear anywhere else in the world as much as in long-haired new-age Vikings. It’s something that the world needs to know, that the Vikings of the modern day do not belong in the stock exchange, they don’t belong in analysis departments, but rather they belong in the bubbling, sweaty musical armpit, with a tattoo on their shoulders.

GEIRHARÐUR: You mean basically that they belong in the shit.
GUÐMUNDUR: They belong in the shit.
TEITUR:  They belong in the streets of Reykjavík.
GUÐMUNDUR: They belong amongst the masses.

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