From Iceland — Gimme Gimme Morr

Gimme Gimme Morr

Published September 3, 2012

Gimme Gimme Morr
Eli Petzold
Morr Music have released and distributed so much Icelandic music over the last decade that founder Thomas Morr says people sometimes mistake the label for an Icelandic company. But that’s not so. We met up with him to learn more about the Berlin-based label and how it came to work with Icelandic artists such as múm, Sin Fang, Sóley and FM Belfast, to name a few.
Where does Morr Music’s relationship with Iceland begin?
There was no master plan behind it. The story begins with one name: Örvar from múm. The band was getting together around the same time as we were creating our label and I thought, ‘Hey they sound like our kind of music.’ When they moved to Berlin, basically living on the street next to mine, we started meeting on a regular basis. I had set up a distributing company with a friend, and we ended up distributing their first album, ‘Yesterday Was Dramatic–Today Is OK.’
Since then we’ve stayed in touch, and Örvar has recommended and introduced me to a lot of new bands. When you find an artist that you like working with, the best thing to do is work on side projects with them or on their friend’s projects. So a lot of it goes back to Örvar. Then of course we met Benni Hemm Hemm, Bjössi (Borko), and Seabear when I saw them play in Berlin…
And Seabear led to Sin Fang, which led to Sóley…
Exactly. Hers is a really nice story. She started off being quite shy in Seabear, but she seemed to grow a lot in Sin Fang and then she started doing solo recordings. She never told me about them; it was actually Sindri who mentioned it. And then we all pushed her to finish her recordings.
There’s also Pascal Pinon. I knew their father because he played in Benni Hemm Hemm and we used to work with them. So we’ve made a lot of connections like that. It was the same way with all of the bands around The Notwist. I was living with Markus from The Notwist when we started working with Lali Puna, a band consisting of Markus and his girlfriend Valerie, Florian who works for Morr and Casper, who is drumming in a dozen bands, and then we took on the side project Tied & Tickled Trio, and his brother’s project, Ms. John Soda. If you work intensely with an artist, it usually leads to something. The scene around these bands remind me a lot about backyard, just a German version and very DIY.
Another side project of this scene is the film ‘Backyard,’ which features a bunch of Icelandic musicians. I haven’t actually seen it. What’s the story there?
You should see it! Before you come to Iceland, you have to watch it. When they do passport control at the airport, they should have some questions about ‘Backyard.’
Árni Rúnar of FM Belfast had the idea of setting up a festival and a series of concerts with friends and to have it recorded, but only musically. Árni Sveinsson, one of the directors, planned to videotape the concerts, but he didn’t tell them that his idea from the beginning was to make a documentary.
He filmed all day without people paying much attention to him, so they’re acting pretty normal. He taped one song from each artist, the last one being “Underwear” by FM Belfast. That song is almost like an anthem for this scene. There’s a real climax in the end when you see the band play live; people go nuts.
So it’s basically a small documentary about the Reykjavík music scene and about spontaneously organising this show. There’s no bureaucracy or crazy planning involved. They wanted to do it and just did it. The way the story is told is also super charming. To me it seems very Icelandic because it’s direct and quick.
Enough about past projects, what’s in the works right now in Iceland?

We always have some good Icelandic releases on the horizon. Some people definitely think Morr is an Icelandic label by now. múm is working on some new stuff…
múm were silent for so long and then the recent compilation of early recordings, ‘Early Birds,’ came out of nowhere. You say they’re working on new stuff?
They had been quiet for some time after throwing a big show in an old steel factory in Poland, inviting a number of guest musicians, a choir and an orchestra. They had worked on that for a long time and thought it had been such a special experience that they should take a bit of a break.
We had been talking about this compilation for a long time, but it kept getting postponed. The reviews for it are insanely good so far. What they are working on now may be a bit more electronic, which is good timing because this sound aesthetic is coming back these days.
You think they are going to go back to their more electronic side?
I’ve heard some sketches so far. There are a lot of electronic sounds and there’s an electronic structure to it. It reminds me in a good way of the stuff they did back in the day.
So it seems like you see a continued, if not increased, presence of Morr music in Iceland.
Yeah, I definitely think so. A lot of the bands that we work with are pretty active. Pascal Pinon just finished recording a new album produced by Alex Somers who produces Jónsi’s records. They’re going to take a big step forward with that album. Sindri has a new record, and FM Belfast and Sóley are going to record new stuff this year or at the beginning of next year. So there’s going to be a constant stream of releases coming up.
We’re probably also going to sign another Icelandic band in the next year. We’re working on one or two releases with an artist that doesn’t even exist as an artist at the moment. But it’s a bit too early to talk about it. There are always new bands springing up here.

We asked Thomas to pick catalogue favourites from his own label and he was glad to oblige. “Most of these releases have a story about meeting a new artist or doing something fun together,” he told us. “They are personal stories that make the releases special for me.” While you’ll have to make your own personal connection, they are worthwhile additions to a music collection.
B FLEISCHMAN, POP LOOPS FOR BREAKFAST [1999]: The first record we ever put out will always stay magical. First test-pressings, first cover, first everything. Simply great.
LAL PUNA, SCARY WORLD THEORY [2001]: This is the album that changed it all for us. From a very good label we got even better and it took us to another level.
ISAN, CLOCKWORK MENAGERIE [2002]: Our fourth ISAN release back in the day. This contained a few of the tracks that, looking back, maybe made me start a record label.
VARIOUS ARTISTS BLUE SKIED AN’ CLEAR [2002]: A tribute to one of my favourite bands ever, Slowdive. This basically led into the re-release of some of their music.
MÚM, YESTERDAY WAS DRAMATIC, TODAY IS OKAY [2005]: Simply one of my favourite albums ever. It made us very happy to re-release this album about five years after I first heard it.
SIN FANG BOUS, CLANGOUR [2005]: What a talented man!” (Album released prior to the band name change).


Most of Icelandic bands signed to Morr have less than one degree of separation from Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárason, a.k.a. Örvar from múm. Using him as the great-granddaddy of our locals on the label, we’ve laid out a little band genealogy for your general trivia knowledge!
MÚM: They are first Icelandic band to get signed onto Morr with their 2001 release ‘Please Smile My Noise Bleed’ remix album, back when the band did a stint of living in Germany. Eleven years later, members have come and gone and scattered to all parts of the globe and back, and they are still releasing with their buddies in Berlin. Their latest album, ‘Early Birds,’ came out this past June.
FM BELFAST: Another one of Örvar’s acts, Morr’s next most prolific and one of our dearly beloved Icelandic bands, FM Belfast, are no strangers to Berlin themselves. Their first release to the label was their single “Underwear,” which has become a sort of unofficial civic anthem for 101 Reykjavík. Their latest release is also a single, “Delorean.”
SEABEAR/SIN FANG: It technically isn’t cool to lump these two together—one being a fully democratic band and the other being a solo project—but the catalyst of these acts would be Sindri Már Sigfússon. He also happens to be Örvar’s tattoo buddy (we did not know this was a “thing,” but there you have it) and have released a picture book together on Morr under the name Apfelsin Bros. 
BORKO: Thomas Morr had been closely following Björn Kristjánsson’s singer-songwriter growth over the six years leading up to the release of his unique album ‘Celebrating Life’ back in 2008. Borko and Örvar are old, close friends who have collaborated together, and the former has toured with múm and sometimes played live percussion for FM Belfast.
SÓLEY: From Seabear came Sóley Stefánsdóttir’s secret solo act. Had it not been for Sindri spilling the beans to Thomas, it might have taken a lot longer before her breakout EP ‘Theater Island’ came out (which it luckily did in 2010). She has since become one of the busiest and fastest rising local acts and is already working hard on her sophomore LP.
BACKYARD – THE MOVIE: Of course the grand culmination of all of these wonderful bands and good friends can be found on the local rockumentary ‘Backyard,’ which is distributed by Morr! The movie unfolds over a one-off show in Árni Rúnar Hlöðversson’s backyard on Culture Night 2009 with his crew of best band buddies.
Compiled by Rebecca Louder
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