From Iceland — Old As Folk: An Airwaves' Off-venue Retirement Home With Svavar Knútur

Old As Folk: An Airwaves’ Off-venue Retirement Home With Svavar Knútur

Published November 8, 2015

Old As Folk: An Airwaves’ Off-venue Retirement Home With Svavar Knútur
Ciarán Daly
Photo by
Claus Sterneck

Iceland Airwaves is special for a lot of reasons, not least its array of weird and wonderful off-venues. From private homes to dumpsters, you can hear and see lots of strange and magical things in strange and magical places this weekend.

However, Airwaves might not seem too friendly to the elderly, given its binge-drunk, loud, and messy majesty. However, there is still something for everyone—as Svavar Knútur’s concert at Grund, a retirement home for the elderly — and Airwaves off-venue — proves.

A folk musician and self-proclaimed bullshit savant, Svavar is well-known for bringing traditional Icelandic folk music up to speed with the 21st century. With his fifth album, ‘Brot‘, however, he’s moving in a new direction with a full band and some distortion pedals thrown in for good measure. We caught up with him after his concert at Grund.

Hey, Svavar. What were the vibes at the old folks’ home? Do you think retirement homes would benefit from regular concerts?
It was wonderful to play at Grund. I really felt there was a lot of love in the house. I think a lot of musicians ignore and are basically prejudiced toward old people because of ageism.

Are the elderly often fans of your work?
I did an album called Songs For My Grandmother partly because I wanted to bring the old songs to people in the calm and quiet singer/songwriter style. It was wonderfully received and I visit a lot of old folks homes as a consequence.

The truth is that old people really enjoy music—you just have to approach them with respect and on their terms. Seeing as they are not as mobile as healthy young people, they really appreciate it when artists come to them with their music. They definitely benefit from musical visits and concerts.

They don’t make hearing aids for nothing. What kind of music would you recommend for the elderly?
Bands that play melodic and gentle music are perfect for the elderly, as they often tend to be very sensitive to loud noise. I’m not talking overly quiet, but super-aggressive metal or anthem / dad rock might not be their cup of tea.

What are your plans for Airwaves this year? Do you have any tales of years past?
My Airwaves plans are basically to play off-venue shows and then spend time with my family. I’ve been away for almost a month and I love some quality time.”

This one time, my band Hraun was playing in a tent as part of a showcase and the front of house P.A. blew a fuse. The lights went out and the P.A. died. However, the monitors and our amps were still functioning, so we just turned the monitors to the front and changed the programme to a more punk rock oriented theme. It was a wonderful, wild night.

Can you tell us about your new album? What’s different this time round and how has it been received so far?
My new album ‘Brot’ [“The Breaking“] is a little bit of an evolutionary step towards more band oriented stuff. I’m still focused on the minimalist approach, but it’s fun to mix it up a bit and have fun with a band. The way I’ve been working so far has been to follow the idea that leaving a big part of the canvas blank allows the listener to paint the music with their own mind colours.

This time, I took the space in a couple of songs to fill in the picture a bit more. I like the work of arranging and producing more elaborate songs, but I still like the sparse arrangements a lot.

Brot is my fourth solo album and the third one featuring original songs, continuing a journey of exploration that is portrayed by my daughter’s cover artwork on every album. The reviews have also been very positive and my audiences have seemed happy with it, so I can’t complain.

You can hear Svavar’s latest single below.

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