From Iceland — “It Doesn't Have To Be Warm To Be Exotic”

“It Doesn’t Have To Be Warm To Be Exotic”

Published April 25, 2014

“It Doesn’t Have To Be Warm To Be Exotic”

The songs on My bubba’s new album, ‘Goes Abroader,’ were written during the long, dark nights of a Scandinavian winter. Guðbjörg Tómasdóttir (‘Bubba’) was in her native Iceland; My Larsdotter Lucas (‘My’), who hails from Sweden, was camped out in Denmark. The duo missed their adventures together, so they put pen to paper and finger to fretboard to transport themselves to new destinations. But contrary to what you might expect, these voyages weren’t always of the sunny, tropical variety. 

“I’ll crawl through seaweed to knock on your door / Walk bare feet on broken clamshells, mile after mile,” My sings at the beginning of “Island,” the first single from the album to be released in Iceland. She continues: “It’s cold and windy at the seaside, yet here I am.”

“The song is about going through hard times to say that you’re sorry,” Bubba explains over the phone, not bothering to sugar-coat the sombreness of the material. But how does this inclement trial of love square with the bright guitar and exotic sounds on the track? “I never imagined the island on ‘Island’ as a warm, sunny place,” My answers. “It was just an exotic place, like Iceland is. It doesn’t have to be warm to be exotic.”

Written Cold, Recorded Hot

Bubba and My began playing their lo-fi, vocal-oriented folk tunes after a chance encounter in Copenhagen five years ago. “We independently write music and words, and then somehow, when we meet, there’s a song,” My says of their collaborative relationship. The new album came about in much the same haphazard way. “At some point we realised we had a couple of exotic songs and we thought it was something to keep working on.”

According to My, the sounds on the album, often tinged with Caribbean, African and Hawaiian flavours, are more a product of intuition than technical striving. Bubba compares their approach to that of French artist Henri Rousseau, who painted distinctive jungle landscapes on the basis of pictures he found in books and museums, rather than on first-hand experiences. “It’s like taking an imaginary journey through something that’s half real,” Bubba says.     

Despite the songs’ cold-weather provenance, the album was recorded in Seahorse Sound Studios and House of Blues Studios, both in sunny southern California. The duo worked with Noah Georgeson, who previously produced albums for Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart, and who developed a layered sound for My bubba. “It was great working with Noah when finishing the songs, adding layers and taking it all further arrangement-wise,” My admits. Nowhere is this advantage more apparent than on “Poem Found In The Pocket Of An Amazon.” “Lips sink down to endless sips in the waterfall / In the river tall / Warmer than the sun hidden by the green,” My sings, as the bass line is wrapped in a humid sonic fuzz that sounds every bit like the approach of a tropical thunderstorm. 

“It’s cold and windy at the seaside, yet here I am.”

Still, production quality aside, it’s the play of voices that gives the album its soul. Bubba’s vocals are richer, My’s dreamier – yet both are simultaneously disarming and seductive, delicate and sensual. This isn’t something most listeners would expect from folk music, with its reputation for acoustic innocence. But then again, neither is a cover of Peaches’ raunchy feminist number, “Fuck The Pain Away,” which My bubba has been known to trot out at concerts. “We enjoy playing around with contrasts, surprising people,” My says. Almost as surprising as hearing these two voices recite Peaches’ explicit lyrics is the subdued cover version of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” that closes out ‘Goes Abroader.’ “Sexual Healing” is just a really true song,” says Bubba, justifiably unapologetic about the choice of material. “There’s always a reason to sing that one.”

Home And Abroad

My was in between visits to Civil War battlefields and antebellum plantation houses in Richmond, Virginia, when she phoned into the interview. It was an appropriate location: even though calypso and other Afro-Caribbean and African sounds predominate on My bubba’s new album, Southern influences also play a prominent role. The sequential tracks “Knitting” and “Wild & You,” two of the best songs on ‘Goes Abroader,’ provide neat examples of this. “Knitting” is a terse a cappella interlude with a suicidal twist, and might be the world’s first instance of Southern Gothic Twee. “Wild & You” is a much more straightforward track with an irresistible country shuffle that lends itself well to string picking and guitar sliding – not to mention dancing.

My bubba will be in Iceland for a small album-release tour in mid-May. When asked about which city offers better nightlife, Reykjavík or Copenhagen, Bubba thinks it over quickly. “In Iceland, you go out so late,” she says. “So you could start in Copenhagen and then fly to Reykjavík, so you have the best of both cities.” It’s the liberal outlook of a far-roving mind. As My bubba’s new album shows, the band’s music is much the same.

See also:

Download our Track Of The Issue: My bubba’s “Island”

My bubba’s New “Island” Music Video

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