From Iceland — Track By Track: 'Phantom Plaza' By RYBA

Track By Track: ‘Phantom Plaza’ By RYBA

Published October 20, 2020

Track By Track: ‘Phantom Plaza’ By RYBA
Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Heimir Gestur Valdimarsson & Margrét Rósa Dóru-Harrysdóttir

RYBA’s debut release ‘Phantom Plaza’ was a two-year effort that ended up with a seven person supergroup featuring Heimir Gestur Valdimarsson on guitar, Andri Eyjólfsson on samples, Baldur Hjörleifsson on bass, Elísabet Birta Sveinsdóttir on vocals, Kormákur Jarl Gunnarsson on MOOG synthisiser, Laufey Soffía on vocals, and Sigurður Möller Sívertsen on drums—all artists you might recognise from groups like Andi, Kælan Mikla, Grísalappalísa and more. Heimir sat down to go through the RYBA release, track by track. 

The album ‘Phantom Plaza’ was written in a transitional time after being in Poland for the past few years and then settling down in Reykjavik again. I had sent my instruments from Poland and they came many months later half-moulded and wet. After drying my guitars and bass, many things started to come together and I saw a way to make an album that I had [wanted] to make but never had any time for. Colleagues started to gather up and instruments became dry and sharp—sharper than before.


We took the lyrics to a pretty dark place leaving out all sense of continuity and linear storytelling. The lyrics [in “Stalker”] are cut-ups from a film script I had written inspired by noir films like ‘Night Of The Hunter’ (1956). Baldur wrote the song with me and totally got it. He created haunted guitar noises as well as some creepy sounds that I don’t even know what are anymore.

No Going Back

“No Going Back” is mainly Baldur’s creation. We sampled another ghostly song of ours and this one came out of it. It went through our grinder machines of kraut, John Cassavete’s film scores, and The Cramps.

Too Bad You Should Know…

This one came after listening to “Liquid Swords” by GZA as well as working in construction work power washing houses.

Alltof mikið

“Alltof mikið” was the first song written for this album and the whole album was only supposed to be songs like this—everything done very quickly with short and fast songs that were all under 2 minutes. It did not go that way and this album became something different. “Alltof mikið” means “Way too much.”

Take You Home

This song is sampled from another RYBA song called “Girls.” It’s a travel song, and Kormàkur’s work in this song is one of his best performances on the album. He plays on a Moog synthesiser; it reminds me of “The Black Riders & Flight to the Ford” by Bo Hansson.

Wyglądają Naturalnie

This song was written in one evening. Every recording was the first and final take. We love Poland and connect to Polish people and this song is an echo from the past. It plays with cumbia and popular songs from 30s Polish radio. This creates a sound, which is defined through the album—blending art forms and genres that you don’t except to fit together.

“We took the lyrics to a pretty dark place leaving out all sense of continuity and linear storytelling.”

Standing Man

“Standing Man” was originally a series of photographs and drawings by me and our drummer Sígó, but it became this song and other things. It is a continuing process about a standing man.

Only 4 You

Kormákur writes: This song really came together when some of us were having a night out. Heimir had created the basic loop of the song and late in the night we decided to try and record vocals. I was in a good mood, someone handed me a mic and sang the lyrics in a falsetto, which Elísabet would later go on to sing. The song became a calling for something that was in the past and trying to reach it, but having to accept that everything goes on and nothing will be the same. The symphony is recorded by Heimir in his car listening to Rondo radio and the song ends in a loop which eventually destroys itself like an old tape which has been played many times through the decades.

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