Kælan mikla is a three-piece band that’s gotten a lot of attention since winning the City Library’s poetry slam competition last year, singing and screaming through their punk poetry. As Airwaves 2014 marks the band’s first appearance on the official festival programme, we thought we’d send them a few question to mark the occasion. For whatever reason, they weren’t able to respond with any answers, so in the end we had to resort with actually meeting singer Laufey Soffía Þórsdóttir, bass player Margrét Rósa Dóru- Harrysdóttir and drummer Sólveig Matthildur Kristjánsdóttir for coffee at Hressó.
So you guys routinely refer to yourselves as a poetry-punk band. What does that entail?
Sólveig: We started out singing our poems, and it worked out, so we’ve continued the tradition.
Margrét: So when we’re making songs, we’ll usually make the instrumental bits first, jamming out to find bits we like, and then pick segments from our poems that fit the music before adding a chorus and finalising the song.
Laufey: We compose a lot of poetry in our spare time, so there’s no shortage of material to choose from when we make the songs. Most of it is from me and Sólveig.
And have you published any books of poetry?
L: Yeah, we’ve published two through Fríyrkjan, a collection of young poets in Iceland that Sólveig started.
S: Yeah, our second poetry book came out this September, and we have regular readings once a month where anyone can read their works.
What about the punk aspect, where does that come from?
M: When Laufey and I were seventeen and hanging out, we loved listening to punk music and watching ‘Rokk í Reykjavík.’
L: We always wanted to be in such a punk band, but we didn’t know anyone who knew how to play an instrument.
M: Wait, that’s not true, I knew how to play instruments and compose everything that I play myself. But it’s not like I ever learnt formally how to play, but I picked it up.
S: I studied the Western concert flute for ten years along with the saxophone and guitar, but then I started playing the drums in Kælan mikla by accident, and picked it up along the way.
M: So to answer your question, the punk comes from me and Laufey meeting up, jamming out and pretending to be cool [they laugh].
A few of your songs feature Margrét screaming at the top of her lungs, but the new tune you recently unveiled had no screams in it whatsoever. Does this mark a new direction for the band?
L: Well, we have to space the screams out a bit, otherwise people will get tired of them. It’s like chocolate: it’s great but you can’t always have it. Or something like that.
M: But no, we’re not fading them out. At least not consciously. We’ll make a new song tomorrow for Airwaves where we’ll have lots of screams!
THAT PERSONAL TOUCH
Your lyrics seem deeply personal, but I wonder how difficult it is to open oneself up in such a small society…
S: Yeah, they are, but you get away with it because it’s not obvious to everyone.
L: The important thing is for people to be able to connect with your lyrics and the emotions you’re talking about. People would need to know us really well to know exactly what we’re talking about.
S: Yeah, but then when we write “I hope you go to hell / so I can meet you again my love,” people ask us “is it about that guy?”
L: Each and every listener should be able to relate to it from their own personal experience. Even if some people think it’s about them, it probably isn’t.
But isn’t that sort of dangerous, for people to be able to connect the dots and find out who or what a given song is really about?
L: That’s sort of the problem with using poems instead of writing lyrics, that they’re always connected to something personal.
M: And I like that, keeping it personal.
S: Then we also have songs like “Ekkert nema ég” (“Nothing But Me”), where the lyrics are from a text I sent my friend at five in the morning, when I was completely wasted.
L: Yeah, it was a super long text!
S: And it wasn’t on a smartphone, it was typed on an old-school keyboard…
L: The funny thing was that the friend didn’t know we’d turned it into a song until she showed up to one of our shows and heard it [laughs].
When you started the band, why did you decide to sing in Icelandic? Did you consider that it might limit your growth potential as a band?
L: Not really as it’s a lot easier to express yourself in your own language, in particular for us with our poetry-focused songs. You don’t go around making poetry in English when you’re from Iceland, or at least I wouldn’t.
S: Even in Icelandic we don’t seem to be able to express ourselves… Laufey often asks me what I’m doing, because I sometimes make up new words, but they make sense in the context, so we leave them in there.
L: Yeah, because they’re usually quite funny.
M: I’m always surprised when people that don’t speak Icelandic show up for a show and then approach me afterwards to tell me they really enjoyed themselves. I don’t get it, because they have no idea what we’re saying!
L: It’s such a lyrically focused band, but it seems that foreigners can appreciate our vibe and what we’re about.
M: And then we get invited to play in Britain, Germany and Switzerland, and then someone in Germany wants to release a 7” vinyl with us, despite not understanding a word from our songs.
S: I’ve had people ask me if I can translate our lyrics, and I’ve tried, but they don’t really translate properly from Icelandic.
THE UPCOMING ALBUM AND INFLUENCES
The last time we spoke, you had run into difficulties with recording your new album. What was that about? And what’s the situation now?
M: So we were going to record our album at the beginning of the year, and we had a studio lined up, but the guy who owned it broke his leg so we had to wait a while to get started, and then his studio burned down for some reason… It was absolutely absurd, and we were worried that the album was cursed or something.
L: But now we’ve got a few things coming out.
M: Yeah, one of them is a cassette with five songs that we’re releasing through Ronja Records, it was recorded in one live session, and it’s going to be just 50 copies. It’s all very DIY, as we’re packing them in our own living room, folding the covers, and selling them at our shows.
S: And the 7” from Germany.
L: We’ve also recorded an actual LP with Alison MacNeil (from kimono), which will be released commercially in record stores.
S: We’ll probably release that album digitally before Airwaves.
M: We need to get started on that, right?
What are your influences? Nei, djók, I know you guys hate that question. How often are you asked that question? And what’s your favourite answer to it?
M: Oh, I hate that question! We actually had a few of those from Nýtt líf [an Icelandic fashion and lifestyle magazine] where they asked us what our influences were and who we looked up to. I wanted to say “I just look up to myself, and please stop with these stupid questions!” Then they asked what we thought about fashion on stage, as we were so well known for being fashionable, and I was screaming “I hate fashion!”
S: Our manager was saying we had to answer those questions, and I said I’d try…
M: Yeah, we were all trying to answer it together, but our answers were mostly “this is a shitty question!”
S: Yeah, who are they to assume that we aren’t independent, that we’re just imitating others? In the end we deleted the answers we had written and moved on. It’s not like we sit down together and decide before each show whose style we’re going to imitate that night…
L: Yeah, it’s never “let’s make a song like this band, or that one.” We have musicians we look up to, but we don’t strive to be like them. We’re just doing what comes to mind and strikes our fancy.
M: So our favourite answer is to delete interviews like that.
L: But we do answer them once in a while…
M: The Nýtt líf interview was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.
S: We’ve done pretty much everything ourselves, from the merch we sell, to our designs, and organisation.
L: We’d ideally just handle everything ourselves, even though we often have no idea what we’re doing.
S: The other day I showed up with my own drumsticks and a snare drum to a gig, and it was the very first time ever I brought so much gear. I wondered if it meant that I was finally taking music seriously.
You seem to be at a certain crossroad right now with regards to whether you want to keep playing in Kælan mikla as a hobby, or if you want to go pro.
M: Yeah, it’s a real dilemma for us. We really want to do it professionally, but we don’t want to become professionals. We want to stay true to ourselves, keep working hard and creating. We’re all working or in school, but we can see there are a lot of opportunities in front of us. And we’re not sure where to go with them.
L: Like right now, I’m playing truant, skipping school to be here for this interview, but I can’t always do that. We want to go further, all the while holding on to just being close friends and having fun together. Some bands stick together and play music without being that close, whereas we spend as much of our day as possible together.
S: And yet we never manage to meet up together and talk about serious stuff, we’re always just hanging out and having fun. We want this band to be what we do.
M: Yeah, I want to stop working and just play music.
Did you ever dream of being at these crossroads?
S: Oh, no way! I woke up this morning and had three Facebook messages about interviews, the cover and other band-related stuff.
L: I don’t think we realise how lucky we are, and how big of an impact the band is having on our lives.
S: I’ve had people come up to me at the bar where I’m working and asking if I’m in Kælan mikla, and I respond with “what the hell does it matter if I’m in some band?!”
L: There was a guy talking to me the other day and naming Kælan mikla as one of his favourite Icelandic bands without realising I was in it.
S: We’re all such weirdoes that we don’t really know how to handle fame…
How quickly do you want to start working on the next album?
M: Oh, I don’t know, it all sounds so big!
L: We have a song we want to make from one of Sólveig’s poems. It’ll have a lot of noise, and probably a scream from Margrét.
S: It’s a poem I wrote sitting at Prikið, about how everything is on a downward spiral, but how I want to change it. It was a moment of realisation.
You can catch Kælan Mikla on the following dates:
November 5: Gaukurinn at 19:10
November 6: Loft Hostel (off-venue) at 16:15, Bar 11 (off-venue) at 17:30
November 8: Bíó Paradís (Straumur off-venue) at 17:00, Dillon (off-venue) at 18:15, Frederiksen at 21:40
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