From Iceland — In Character: The Sublime Intensity Of gugusar

In Character: The Sublime Intensity Of gugusar

Published September 27, 2019

In Character: The Sublime Intensity Of gugusar
Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Guðlaug Sóley Höskuldsdóttir is shy. Sitting in her family’s Grafarvogur home, backlit by the late-summer sunshine, the 15-year-old songstress—who performs under the name gugusar—speaks quietly and punctuates each of her thoughts with a nervous laugh. She’s never been interviewed before and frankly seems somewhat caught-off-guard when told how her newest song “I’m not supposed to say this” has been on constant rotation in the Grapevine office. In truth, talking to me might be the first time she’s ever met a fan.

But her music and live performances tell a different story. Intricate, low-fi emotional tunes peppered with swaying beats and subtle roaming harmonies, gugusar’s works project a quiet confidence and remarkable emotional insight. They’re visceral, heartfelt, and utterly captivating—Iceland’s toned-down response to Billie Eilish. Hearing her songs for the first time reminded me of watching Hatari’s first shows, or listening to “B.O.B.A.” on the day it was released—this girl is going to be big. I’m betting on it.

Other people’s steps

“Gugugsar is a character,” Guðlaug says, smiling simply. “Me, as myself, I would never sing in front of anyone, not even my Mom. But when I’m onstage as gugusar, it’s a whole different thing.”

Guðlaug premiered gugusar live at this year’s Músiktilraunir contest with her instrumental song “Marthröð,” where she won the Rafheili Músíktlrauna, the contest’s award for electronic music. “I didn’t have an idea for a song, so I just went on my music program and just picked an instrument. I pressed record and played something and didn’t even listen to it. Then I picked another instrument and did the same time, and then I did another one,” she explains. “I was really stressed [to perform] but then it worked out fine.”

“Me, as myself, I would never sing in front of anyone, not even my Mom. But when I’m onstage as gugusar, it’s a whole different thing.”

She followed that up with two more songs, “If u wanna go,” and “I’m not supposed to say this,” released in August and September, where Guðlaug added her voice. “I write in a character, so I write about something that hasn’t happened to me,” she explains. “I put myself in other people’s shoes.”

“If u wanna go,” Guðlaug emphasises, is about a person who is confused, while “I’m not supposed to say this” takes a more complicated approach. “I was writing from the perspective that someone has been really mean to you, and you’re like, I hate him, but I’m not supposed to say that I hate someone. It’s confusing,” she relays.

We’re supposed to say this

While her debut show was at Músiktilraunir, her second performance was equally as impressive—onstage with Hermigervill and FM Belfast at Menningarnótt. “It was really crazy,” she says excitedly, her face breaking out in a huge smile. “Unnsteinn Manuel just called me one day. It was a random number and I wasn’t even going to answer but I picked up and it’s Unnsteinn!” She laughs. “When I was little, I looked up to him so much so I was panicking.”

The concert went well, and saw Guðlaug find even more comfort in front of a crowd. “It’s weird how I change characters when I go onstage,” she says. “After the show, I thought, ‘what did I just do?’ It’s so weird,” she laughs. “But it’s cool. Then I’m back and I’m me, Guðlaug, and I’m like ‘thank you, I don’t know what just happened.’”

Check out gugusar on Facebook, Instagram, and Spotify.

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