From Iceland — A Deal With The Universe: Kristín Anna Navigates The Personal And The Professional

A Deal With The Universe: Kristín Anna Navigates The Personal And The Professional
Rex Beckett
Photo by
Art Bicnick & Lilja Gunnarsdóttir

A distinctly enigmatic character with a unique, ultra-high pitched voice, Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir has been a widely recognised figure in Icelandic music and art for nearly two decades. Previously known as Kría Brekkan and now as simply Kristín Anna, the multi-instrumentalist has been a member of the band múm (along with her twin sister Gýða Valtýsdóttir), created visual art, engaged in numerous collaborations and performances, and composed a great deal of music. However, up until this point she has released very little of her work.

Now she is set to release a new album, ‘I Must Be The Devil’, comprised of her compositions for piano written over the course of twelve years. It was recorded at the behest of one of her best friends and collaborators, Ragnar Kjartansson.

“He and his wife, Ingibjörg Stefánsdóttir, kind of mediated the whole process of me going into the studio,” says Kristín Anna, over the phone from Corsica, where she’s at a week-long art residency. “I had been writing piano songs since 2005 and I would occasionally perform them live and then, in 2015, they were sort of like, ‘Okay, Kristín…’”

Uneasy process

Once in the studio, Kristín Anna worked with Kjartan Sveinsson (formerly of Sigur Rós), who recorded her and guided her through the process of production and arrangement.

“It is just more natural for me to perform. Give me a time and space and I don’t need to know anything.”

“It wasn’t a very easy process, so it’s coming to fruition with a lot of patience and trust,” she says about going into the studio and digging up a decade’s worth of music from the annals of her creative memory. “A lot of the music I make, both under my name and as Kría Brekkan, I just sort of improvised and then fit it into a soundscape, and it’s easier to do it in a flow where you’re never gonna recreate it again.”

For Kristín, recording something tangible is much more challenging. “This music is composed,” she says. “Some of it existed for a long time before it was recorded. Some of it existed in many different ways. The material is all super personal and fragile to me. It was all just a big challenge.”

Body, voice, machines

She attributes this challenging feeling of working with set material to the different human strengths and weaknesses found in each person, particularly those who create art and music.

“Some people have no problem with making and making and sending it off and it’s all tangible results, but then they puke because they have to perform or go onstage,” she laughs. “It is just more natural for me to perform. Give me a time and space and I don’t need to know anything. I’ll use my body or my voice or machines. I find performing and performance is safe, but when I make tangible stuff I tend to kind of freak out.”

Howling love

‘Howl,’ Kristín’s first full-length album under her own name, was released in 2015 and was created in this exact mindset and spirit of immediacy and improvisation. She journeyed to Joshua Tree, California, for a week and embarked on a compositional journey. “I would walk in the wilderness all day and then improvise the songs at night and that’s it,” she says. “It was sort of like a site-specific project and it is what it is. But then I spent months and months on the artwork for it.”

“I didn’t know what to do with my emotions… then I realised I could just pick up a guitar or sit at a piano and I would put the feeling somewhere.”

Since the release of that album, Kristín Anna put more focus on different kinds of work while attending the Iceland Academy of the Arts and engaging in multiple performance collaborations with Ragnar Kjartansson, her sister Gýða, and twin brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National. This group in particular created a “fake musical” called “Forever Love: Trees and Longing.” Kristín says she had so much fun doing it that she came home and wrote the first single of her new album, also entitled “Forever Love.”

Pyre in flames

The song’s video was also directed by Ragnar, along with Allan Sigurðsson. “The video was just Ragnar’s idea, to set this pyre in flames,” she says. “He had done the painted flames before and he thought it would be very funny to have me pregnant setting it on fire. So we went just two weeks ago and did this, on the summer solstice, all shot in the middle of the night.” The result is an enchanting, joyful, beautiful and humorous piece of visual art, with Ragnar Kjartansson’s cool class, and with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Altogether, the process of recording her album resulted in eighteen completed songs, nine of which will be on the official release on Bel-Air Glamour Records in October and the rest of which will be released in very limited edition through the platform PEOPLE.

The inner block

Above all, the process would not have been possible without the intervention of Kristín Anna’s friends. “It is really a gift they gave to me, to have made me do this,” says Kristín Anna. “The fact that Ragnar and Ingibjörg sort of noticed it like, ‘Wow, she’s never ever gonna record this music,’ and they just took control. They just decided that they would just book the studio and pay for it and we would just see what we would do with it, and just get this recorded. I’m really deeply grateful to them. And without Kjartan, who with his devotion saw that this would be brought to fruition, I probably never would have done it.”

“Some people can just be super professional with their personal life and be in like a total karamba and be fine, you know!”

Nonetheless, the struggle was real. “It’s been difficult. Sometimes I don’t know why I’ve taken so much time to complete it,” she says, sounding slightly drained. “I feel like I can never be just professional. It’s something personal. An inner block has to be healed or mended and I have to tend to it. It has to all go together somehow, if that makes sense. Some people can just be super professional with their personal life and be in like a total karamba and be fine, you know! And I don’t have this deal with the universe.”

The gulf of creation

Most of the songs on the album are deeply personal, relating to interpersonal dynamics with herself or others, written at a time when the music was the outlet for her feelings to take form.

“I didn’t know what to do with my emotions,” she says. “I didn’t smoke cigarettes and I didn’t have all the shortcuts to deal with my emotions. I would just sing something. Then I realised I could just pick up a guitar or sit at a piano and I would put the feeling somewhere. A lot of this music is not me in a bliss, feeling great.”

Some things have changed, since writing her first song on the album, and some have not. “It’s funny because I was pregnant at the time, so now, 12 years later, everything will be conceived and fulfilled,” says Kristín Anna, who is pregnant with her first child. “Giving birth is going to be a big thing ahead. I am kind of excited to start to experiment with making music again. I am also ready to give this project all my spare time to play with it and help it exist in the world a little bit before it disappears in the gulf of creation.”

Kristín Anna’s album ‘I Must Be The Devil’ comes out on Bel-Air Glamour Records in October. The first single “Forever Love” is on YouTube now. See her at MENGI on August 3rd.

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