During a break between songs, a friend shouts into my ear, “They are too loud!” I try to respond, but my words are lost to Pink Street Boys’ onslaught of guitars, pedals, unintelligible vocals and loud drums. At a time when cultural export is the name of the game, with local bands cashing in on the world’s interest in the dreamy and cute Icelandic sound, Pink Street Boys are unruly, crass, full of attitude, unapologetic, and as my friend previously mentioned, loud. At the end of their song, I turn to my friend only to see that they’ve left. Their loss.
The five-piece band only stepped onto the scene a couple of years ago, shredding through their 60s-style garage rock wherever they could. They’ve been busy, too, releasing a demo cassette, and recently a vinyl through 12 Tónar’s record label. Their boisterous attitude on stage is mirrored off of it, as I discovered when I shared a room with them at last year’s Eistnaflug festival—their drunken antics preventing me from getting much sleep over the weekend.
Alfreð Óskarsson, singer and tambourine player.
- Studies fine art at the Iceland Academy of Arts.
- Fell in love with a stripper in New Orleans.
- Tottenham Hotspur fan.
In 2014 they were on numerous top ten album lists, received a Kraumur music award, and were shortlisted for the Nordic Music Prize. Not to mention, this magazine picked them as “Best Live Band” of 2014. Despite all of these accolades, Jónbjörn Birgisson and Víðir Alexander Jónsson look at me in disbelief when I tell them that we’re going to put them on our cover this issue. “Wow, really? That’s crazy!” they say, as we sit down to chat at a downtown café.
But it’s not. PSB has shaken up Iceland’s rock scene, drawing people’s attention to an often overlooked genre, and delivered a lot of truly face-melting performances. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but in the two years they’ve been active they’ve made a big splash.
Third time’s the charm
Jónbjörn and Víðir have the same role in the band, alternating between playing guitar and bass, yet they look and carry themselves very differently. Víðir is the taller and bigger of the two; Jónbjörn is more talkative. In conversation, it’s evident that they are long-time friends, not missing any opportunities to make jokes at each other’s expense, and erupting into laughter every few minutes.
Axel Björnsson, lead singer, guitarist and songwriter.
- Started to grow a beard at age of twelve.
- Works as a professional painter.
- Loves deep fried shrimps and lobster.
- Is often misunderstood and thought of as a prick.
- Looooooves cats.
They tell me the band’s roots go back to Foldarskóli primary school in the Grafarvogur suburbs, with Víðir joining the group later on through his kinship with singer-guitarist Axel Björnsson. The band’s five members have since blazed their own trails, with three of them embarking on film or art studies, one working as a professional painter, and one even currently attending business school. Their friendship, however, is still strong, and they meet up and hang at least three or four times a week at their rehearsal space on Skemmuvegur (a.k.a. “pink street”), in addition to going to their Grafarvogur neighbourhood joints to play pool or darts, or just to knock back a few beers. Jónbjörn says even when they practice, they spend the majority of the time hanging out. “We’re there chatting for an hour, then we play for an hour, and we chat for a while after that,” he says. “We don’t have girlfriends, so we’re never in a rush to leave.”
Although to some PSB appear to have achieved overnight success, Jónbjörn says they’ve been at it since 2006 and that the current band is the gang’s third iteration. Their first band was called Kid Twist, which Jónbjörn says was heavily influenced by Singapore Sling. “We all loved them because they were playing loud, rough rock, but they didn’t have to scream. We wanted to make that kind of music—not metal, but something extreme.” They did just that, and were even on several occasions the opening act for their idols. Although they strived to not copy them, Víðir says the band disbanded because the members felt there wasn’t enough originality in Kid Twist. “You need to do something new,” Jónbjörn emphasises. “It’s not cool to just repeat what’s already been done.”
Einar Björn Þórarinsson, drummer.
- A.K.A. E.B. King, King Kong, Greek God.
- Spent some time in jail in Thailand.
- Can bench press 140kg.
- Drives a sport car.
In 2009, the gang formed a second band called Dandelion Seeds, which was a mellow 60s psychedelic pop outfit. “That’s the project in which we learned to actually play our instruments properly,” Víðir says, which Jónbjörn says they would later have to unlearn with PSB. They both laugh heartily.
Since the very beginning, the group had been listening to a lot of old garage rock in addition to bands like Darker My Love and The Vandelles, so when Dandelion Seeds faded, they came out with guns blazing as a rock band that took to heart the MC5’s mantra of being the world’s loudest band. And Pink Street Boys was born.
Meeting high expectations
Right off the bat the guys found themselves writing a lot more music as PSB. They have the unspoken goal of always playing at least one new song at each gig they play, which is no small feat given how much they have performed.
This creativity doesn’t come from slashing tires or smashing windows as their daring vibe might suggest, but from hanging out with each other and bands they like. These include Muck, Godchilla, Skelkur í bringu, DJ Flugvél og geimskip, Kælan mikla, or “the artsy people,” as Jónbjörn says: “We play a lot with them and listen to their music, and we all sort of meld together.”
Jónbjörn Birgisson, guitarist & bassist.
- Film school graduate.
- 1/8th Carpatho-Russian.
- Once had his Fender amp catch fire while playing.
- Family lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Jónbjörn says laughingly that after about six months of playing people started attending their concerts in respectable numbers, but when asked why, the two take a moment to come up with an answer. Víðir eventually says it’s because they had more attitude. “We started showing up, running our mouth, and being rowdy,” he says, “and that got people’s attention.” Jónbjörn agrees, saying it was the first time the band had an image.
I bring up an interview entitled “GO HOME YOU’RE DRUNK, PINK STREET BOY,” in which inebriated frontman Axel stumbled into the Grapevine office during the Airwaves festival and complained about the media’s role in deciding “who is cool” and “who is not cool.” Jónbjörn and Víðir both dismiss the idea that any one individual was responsible for making the band cool or hyped. “You get the attention you deserve if you work hard,” Jónbjörn says.
Víðir and Jónbjörn propose that what fuelled their meteoric rise is how dangerous they sound. At live performances they crank up their guitars loud enough for people to feel it in their bones, and they themselves can be found bouncing all around the stage. “It’s risky going to our concerts,” Jónbjörn says. “You could lose your hearing, so you have to ask yourself if you dare show up.”
The songs themselves are also volatile, with the themes based on the band members’ alter egos, who get into fights and are bitter about not getting the girl they fancy, although they laughingly admit very few of their lyrics make any kind of real sense. “Then when we go to interviews, people tell us, ‘Shit, I thought you were going to trash the place,’ which is funny because we’re the most relaxed bunch of guys in the world,” Jónbjörn says, laughing.
Going with the flow
The album that brought the Pink Street Boys acclaim was ‘Trash From The Boys’, a limited-edition laser-engraved cassette distributed by Lady Boy Records. For all the praise it got, the boys maintain that it wasn’t that big of a deal. “It was just a collection of homemade demos,” Jónbjörn says, “and we’re always recording those.”
Conversely, their newly released ‘Hits #1’ is a studio-recorded album, which they laid down in a single night a year ago at Hljóðriti studio in Hafnarfjörður. “We were well practised so the music flowed very naturally,” Jónbjörn says, “and then we recorded the vocals in our own studio. We mixed the album ourselves, but we took a fucking long time doing it! We had like ten different versions.” Víðir adds that they thought it was very important for their first real album to sound tight.
In the aforementioned drunken interview, Axel expressed frustration at how little interest there had been from labels to release their album, but Víðir says that 12 Tónar immediately wanted to sign them after they played Airwaves. Despite being raised on MP3s and digital music, the band opted to make their first release a vinyl, because they’re all really big music nerds. “We hadn’t released anything real, and we’ve been playing for nine years now,” Jónbjörn says. “We just wanted to have our own vinyl.”
What would make Jónbjörn even prouder would be for PSB to influence a new generation of musicians. “I want to find fourteen-to-fifteen-year-old boys in a garage playing the same kind of music we do. I’ve scoured the internet, even looking through Myspace, but I’ve only found hip-hop or metal bands.”
On the subject of what the future may hold for PSB, the two communicate enthusiastically that they would love to tour internationally, pausing before admitting that they haven’t been able to because they’re really bad at organising themselves. “The way that we’ve been working, it’s always been a ‘go with the flow’ scenario—we need a manager to deal with plans and that sort of stuff,” Víðir says.
For now, what the boys have planned is an album release concert on May 22 with Seint, Godchilla, russian.girls and Singapore Sling. The gig is at Kaffistofan, which is incidentally the place where they played their very first gig as PSB. They tell me it’s a space that can only realistically fit 50 people, yet 250 have confirmed their attendance on Facebook. “It’ll be rocked out, that’s for sure,” Jónbjörn says.
Pink Street Boys have a concert tonight at Dillon at 21:00, the last concert in Reykjavík for a while.
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