Electronic trio ex.girls ponder existentialist questions on their newest album Verk
Drenched in Nordic cool, there is something intrinsically 90s about electronica group ex.girls. With seven years as a band under their belt, they’ve attracted both domestic and international attention with their energetic stage performance. While innately old-school, there’s also an element of timelessness surrounding the group. Nihilistic, esoteric, with a slight hint of danger, the outfit’s long-awaited debut album Verk was unleashed November 17.
“We’d been making music together at Skúlagata,” explains Gylfi Sigurðsson, a long-time drummer for teenage riots Retro Stefson, distinguishing between the actual street and the eponymous electronica label borne out of that same social circle.
Both Gylfi and frontwoman Tatjana Dís Aldísar Razoumeenko joined the project in 2016, which up until then had been the sole creation of mastermind Guðlaugur “Gulli” Hörðdal. Having prepared “four of our most ready songs”, the trio’s first EP, Sisters & Brothers, was released via the German label hfn music in 2017.
“I only sing on one track, which turns out to be our most popular song to date,” says singer Tatjana. “It’s a funny story, as it’s the first recording where I sing anything. It was just at a party when we recorded ‘Autopilot.’ Everybody was like, ‘This is awesome,’ and I thought, ‘Damn, people were so drunk last night.’ But it’s funny, because it ends up being…” she trails off as Gulli finishes her sentence, “Our most played song.”
“It’s a good song though,” chimes Gylfi.
A controversial name change
Touching on the nature of their Skúlagata stomping ground, Gylfi describes it as a sort of community centre. There, the band was able to experiment with their sound, working at a pace suitable for them. “We hung out a lot there. There was always something going on,” Gulli reminisces.
“You could spend the night just walking around different rooms and studios. If you’d get bored of one room you would just enter the next one,” explains Gylfi. “It was a total zoo.”
It’s this affiliation of multiple collaborators and influences which play a big part in ex.girls’ idiosyncratic sound. “While some artists might think about what’s trending today, we’ve never been too current,” says Tatjana.
“We’ve just focused on making stuff we dig,” adds Gulli.
Fans of Sisters & Brothers were likely surprised to find out that the band had undergone name change. Without an official statement of any sorts, the outfit quietly rebranded themselves to the current ex.girls [from the former russian.girls]. Asked about the decision, Tatjana replies, “It kind of explains itself, doesn’t it?”
The provocative and vague nature of the name apparently caused the trio some strain when it came to booking international shows. “When we made the decision to change the band name, it was because we were trying to book a European tour. It was just a hassle for us. It wasn’t necessarily something we wanted to do. We found it a bit ridiculous to change the name,” explains Gulli.
“It was either change the name and perform abroad, or keep it and don’t go anywhere,” Tatjana adds.
Terminator entered the chat
Like so many musical ventures, Verk fell victim to the 2020 pandemic pushing its release date way back. However, the trio consider this a blessing in disguise. With early concepts drafted in 2019, the band dropped three singles off the album between 2021 and 2022.
“We decided in 2019 that it was going to an LP, but until we release ‘Halda Áfram/Drepa Mann’ in 2021, we considered us ready to release this record. Then came COVID, which I think was fortunate because we’ve developed a lot in that time,” confesses Tatjana.
As fate would have it, the trio ran into fellow musician Guðmundur Ari Arnalds (associated with Mengi Records) who joined them in the final production stages of the release.
“I knew of him,” says Gulli, “I just knew he was doing the most exciting stuff here at home. He did a lot for the album,” he says.
“He’s like Terminator with his vision,” Gylfi jokingly adds, imitating laser noises. “A pure workhorse and perfect for the role.”
Rooted in no-wave aesthetics and philosophy, Verk is an esoteric mix of electronica, avant-pop and experimental music. Just by looking at the album cover, which depicts an overcast fjord with thousands of shovels standing upright in the mudflat, you get a sense of what’s in store.
The visual motif of shovels keeps cropping up within the band’s work. In the 2019 music video “Bíóbabb” featuring Kraftgalli, the trio kidnap their collaborator and bury him. “We dug him a grave and buried him. So that ties together visually and I associate [shovels] heavily with the band. You can use a shovel to either bury a person or to bury a secret,” Gylfi ruminates.
The ambiguous album title Verk – in Icelandic either means “creation” or “action” – reflects the humdrum, existential human actions that propel the everyday. “When we started compiling the songs, we realised that they all make fun of human existence or at least question it,” contemplates Tatanja.
The overall atmosphere featured on Verk is raw and grim. At times, it evokes images of a too-close-to-home dystopia, wherein paranoia is the reigning emotion – perhaps most evident on “Hundrað í hættunni”.
Lights in the fjord
This overall feeling is only exacerbated by Tatjana’s wonderfully sombre vocals. The album’s main lyrical themes explore the shadowy aspects of human nature, all neatly wrapped up within 20th century nihilism. The track “Halda áfram” starts out with a clunky bossa nova beat, with Tatjana half-mumbling, “Keep going. Give up. Dreams live. Dreams die.”
The singer reminisces about the song’s inception. “I remember working on “Halda áfram”. I had hummed some words to it and immediately thought, ‘This is so corny.’ I didn’t dare to show the guys. But somehow I had a feeling this was great. I appreciate that memory because I often think about if I had let that feeling of cringe take over,” Tatjana comments.
However, the album is not all doom and gloom, as Verk contains a plethora of bright moments to keep spirits high, with thumping bass beats fit for the raunchiest of nightclubs. The group will even prepare a remix version of the record, in order to capitalise on the feeling of a sweaty night out.
Verk was released November 17 via bbbbbb records. Follow their ventures on Instagram, @ex.g1rls
[Writer’s note: The print version erroneously contextualised the reason behind the band’s name change. The statement has been removed from the online version]
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