From Iceland — A Big Fish In A Small Pond

A Big Fish In A Small Pond

Published July 8, 2024

A Big Fish In A Small Pond
Photo by
Joana Fontinha

Una Schram’s latest album Pond Big, Tiny Fish exhibits newfound self-confidence

Since releasing her debut album energy in 2019, Una Schram has gotten better at caring less what people think. Following her studies in Bristol and London, Una is back in Iceland, trying to come to terms with her home country. Her latest album Pond Big, Fish Tiny, out June 14, exemplifies the artist’s maturity and development since her arrival on the scene.

Since the age of 10, Una had always wanted to be a pop star. Working on her voice within the confines of her bedroom, she later found herself practising a wide array of instruments. “I’ve always given up and didn’t continue long enough, so I’ve mostly forgotten everything,” she says over a coffee at her usual hangout Prikið. Still, her self-confessed inability to play an instrument has not hindered her writing and releasing music — evidenced by a catalogue that now counts three albums.

“It was always a childhood dream to become a popstar. A young girl who loves to sing and loves Miley Cyrus — that’s the dream. But when you enrol into secondary school, you have different ideas on what you’ll become,” she continues, slightly disappointed.

From Iceland to England and back again…

Collaborating with popular production duo ra:tio on her debut energy, Una received considerable support from her peers and close friends. “I guess I needed to express myself,” Una explains when asked what drew her to releasing music under her own name. “But I also think it’s a difficult way to do it,” she continues enigmatically. “It’s not difficult to express myself through music, but I think it’s hard that that’s the way I need to do it. It’s being vulnerable and I’ve always experienced this tension with myself. I never go ahead blindly thinking I’m so talented.

I’m working at a pizza place, completely broke, and feel like shit

During the album process of Pond Big, Fish Tiny, Una says she felt more freedom to let that self-awareness go. “I dwelled less on things and I’m just older,” she comments.

This time around, Una let those feelings pass and instead went with the flow. “I was probably a bit more calculated back then. [Now] I don’t think too much about what I’m doing. I just do it and think about it later.”

Following her parents to Copenhagen during her secondary school years, Una realised the studies weren’t cut out for her. She decided to drop out and go in another direction. “I applied for a diploma in singing in Bristol. But after I applied, they invited me to start studies in their BA module,” Una chronicles, tracing her journey from Bristol to London and finally back to Iceland during to the pandemic.

…And back to England

Although Pond Big, Fish Tiny doesn’t deviate too far off Una’s previous musical influences, there is an added scope of self-confidence and self-realisation developed since her 2022 sophomore mess mixtape. The themes of love and heartbreak have always been prevalent in Una’s music. Here, they are not the album’s centrepieces, exhibited by the opener “Oversharing”.

“[That song] is like, ‘Oh my god. I can’t be bothered to spend my time on men. I’m not supposed to think about guys all the time. I should be living life! Conquering the world!’” This bolstered tenacity is in part due to Una’s time abroad where she learned to stand on her own two feet. “It’s a life experience: You see things you haven’t seen before. Your mind opens up and I think that affected me the most,” Una says.

After finishing her studies, Una decided it was time to make an honest attempt in realising her dreams. Unfortunately, fate had other plans. “I moved to London, hoping something happens to me and my music. I’m working at a pizza place, completely broke, and feel like shit,” she honestly proclaims. Finding a new job at the Icelandic clothing brand 66 Degrees North, Una states feeling slightly better about herself. There, in the London location of the outdoor clothing giant, Una met her colleague Lewis Ostwald, who ended up producing Una’s record. According to Una, their first session produced Pond Big, Fish Tiny’s opening track, “in the blink of an eye. That was the spark and was extremely fun.”

London tumultuous, Reykjavík boring

With Lewis’ emphasis on psychedelic pop and Una’s influences of jazz and neo-soul — her all-time favourite artist is Amy Winehouse — the duo managed to create a multi-faceted album, unbound by any one particular style. The record includes inextricable elements of trip-hop and dramatic Lana Del Rey-esque vapidness in contrast to Una’s passionate tales of heartbreak and self-discovery. Pond Big, Fish Tiny is in part autobiographical, chronicling Una’s frustrations with her London life, feeling lost and ultimately growing stronger in the process. Although not a universal rule, adversity certainly did produce great art in Una’s case.

Almost poetically in tune with the album’s themes, its process became increasingly rockier. Without going into details, Una vaguely notes that she gradually associated the album with negative feelings. 

I never go ahead blindly thinking I’m so talented.

Fed up with tumultuous London, Una headed back home to Iceland with an unfinished album. “At that point, most of the songs are ready and I’m in this state of, ‘What do I do now? Do I forget this thing?’ I almost decided not to release it.” Reasoning on her final move back home, she says, “I think I got sort of lost [in London]. I just wasn’t mentally strong enough to be on my own two feet.”

Ultimately, it was the music that confirmed Una’s decision to make it work. “I was just proud of it. I wanted people to hear this,” she confesses.

Now back in Iceland, Una is coming to terms with her home country. “I’m open for everything life has to offer. I don’t say that I won’t ever move back. As much as I love Reykjavík and Iceland, I’ve felt strange here. Just like the world has more to offer than this. I’m always in this comparison because I’ve experienced something very big. And Iceland is pretty small. You need to learn how to appreciate it. That’s what I’m going through now.”

Stream Pond Big, Fish Tiny on available platforms. Watch out for Una Schram performing at Hitt Húsið’s street festival in early July.

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