From Iceland — Stealing Mountains

Stealing Mountains

Published June 27, 2011

Stealing Mountains

For three months, Mike Lindsey has lived alone in a cottage in northeast Iceland. Having gained some notoriety as a founding member of British alt-folk gang Tunng, he decided last March that what he really wanted to do was to go to the middle of nowhere and make music with people he didn’t know at all.
“The idea was to basically have nothing written, come here, borrow as much equipment as I could and make a record with people from Húsavík,” Mike says of his sojourn. He’s an affable sort, bearded, lanky and unassuming as he sips beer in a Reykjavík café. It’s his last day in Iceland, and he doesn’t want to leave, but a Tunng gig in Minneapolis demands his presence. “I’m going there for one show, it’s crazy! I’ve got to leave Iceland for this, man!”
‘It’s not that he doesn’t like his bandmates. But after seven years, four albums and countless shows, Mike needed a change, and saw the perfect opportunity for a solo adventure after the end of Tunng’s tour in support of their 2010 album, ‘…And Then We Saw Land’.
“I haven’t done anything for myself for years”, he elaborates. “There was a couple of months where I could have just been in London in a dark basement working on a new Tunng record, which is what I’m supposed to be doing, or hanging out in Iceland looking at the mountains”.
Mike was somewhat familiar with Iceland, having an Icelandic girlfriend and having played at last year’s Iceland Airwaves festival. After spending some time in Húsavík and the surrounding countryside, he became enamoured with the landscape and the people, and began fantasizing about recording music there.
“It was… one of those kind of ideas you have, and you think, ‘that’s not really possible, is it?’ and then it is possible, and then you’ve booked the flight, and then you’re doing it, and then you’re like, ‘fuck!’”
And did it work? Mike’s certainly pleased. In fact, he says it’s one of the best things he’s ever done, even though it didn’t turn out exactly how he planned it. Expecting to channel the isolation of the environment into something approximating “lonely, subtle, desolate electronic folk”, he instead drew heavily on local talent, recruiting, among others, marimba and trumpet players from Húsavík’s music school, two garage band bassists, a fifteen-year-old accordionist and veteran pop circuit drummer Gunnar Illugi Sigurðsson. “The whole record’s kind of shaped because of these people,” he says, going on to describe the results as surprisingly “massive, epic” and “euphoric”.
Mike assembled a studio in his cabin, using equipment borrowed from the aforementioned school. He’s recorded eleven tracks, and says they’re pretty much ready. “Maybe they need a bit of work, here and there, and I’m thinking of maybe coming back to Reykjavík in June and trying to mix the album here”, Mike says, hopeful. “It just feels like the whole thing needs to be done here… I think if you sort of fuck with that, it ruins the whole idea”.
For the purpose of the project, he has taken the artist name Cheek Mountain Thief, the ‘Cheek Mountain’ part being a literal translation of the name of the mountains visible from the cabin windows, and the ‘Thief’ being a self-deprecating reference to Mike’s relationship with Húsavík’s music scene. “I borrowed the cabin, all the equipment and the people, basically. And (the name) sounds kind of cool”.
He lets me hear a track, ‘Snook Pattern’, describing it as “big and meaty.” It’s totally not, at least not to me. On the contrary, it feels folksy, individual and direct, and not at all what to expect after his description of random people coming together, except perhaps for the random drum solo about two minutes in. It is, of course, reminiscent of Tunng, but there’s a purity to it, an undiluted mood of resignation and calm that is not quite as immediate in Tunng’s work.
“I’d like to get the Cheek Mountain Thief project up and running with all the people from Húsavík and do a few shows with them… get a whole crew together. We’d probably just play a gig in Húsavík for a start,” he predicts. “I think it’d be a very strange-looking band”.  

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