Walking throughthe lush landscape of Nanna’s debut solo album
Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir released her debut solo album, How To Start A Garden. In this issue’s cover feature, Nanna gives us a closer look at her creative process and the feelings of solitude that influenced the album — her first solo venture in the wake of achieving global superstardom with the indie-folk group Of Monsters and Men. Here Nanna walks us through How To Start A Garden track by track.
How to Start a Garden
I had just come home from a tour early in 2020. There was this apocalyptic feeling in the air around that time and I was thinking about who I’d choose to see if the world was ending. The lyrics feel like time travelling to me, going from reminiscing about life before and wondering what the next step is. Viktor Orri played the beautiful strings that you can hear on this track and throughout the album.
“Sputnik” is a song about being in the unknown with someone you love. There was a point early in the record-making where I spent a lot of time alone by the screen, programming, manipulating and piecing together these parts. I was figuring out what kind of a record I wanted to make and this way of writing felt exciting and different from how I usually write.
“Crybaby” was recorded between Iceland and Aaron Dessner’s Longpong Studio in Upstate New York. The great Valgeir Skorri Vernharðsson (Mammút, Celebs, Kvikindi) came by the studio one day and I had him play drums on this track.
“Disaster Master” takes place on a summer night, when the sun doesn’t set. It’s about embracing chaos and worried thoughts. I’m practising thinking less.
I had just moved into a new house and, as a celebration of new beginnings, Raggi sent me a demo of himself playing the piano. It sounded beautiful and the lyrics and melody came very naturally. I imagined a vine that twists itself and gets tangled. Like how sometimes life gets a bit complicated, but it’s harder to fight against it than just seeing where it takes you.
“Godzilla” is recorded in my cabin with Bjarni Þór Jensson and Ragnar Þórhallsson. We had a minimal setup with us and the idea was to capture the feeling of being up there. It’s a song about connection.
“Bloodclot /Andvaka” is the oldest song on the album. I have a very distinct memory of having a sleepless night in New York in 2019 and working on it. “Towers that block the sun, this city it feels like the movies,” is New York.
I worked on “Milk” with Aaron Dessner. We were going through old demos of mine to see if anything caught a spark. Aaron helped me connect to the song again and brought life back to it. I’m very happy we were able to figure this one out, it would have still lived in the dusty demo drawer.
“Igloo” is a late night winter walk, when you are not ready to go home just yet. Light posts light up a dark street and frosted car windows. Igloo holds the record of having the most versions recorded. Maybe I’ll release others in the future.
“Voyager” is a song I recorded with Josh Kaufman at Dreamland. The room sounds beautiful so we sat across from each other with our guitars and let the room work its magic. It’s about when you can’t help but look for trouble.
I had a really great time with this one. I love finales. Especially ones that leave you with more questions than answers. I found myself singing in Icelandic at the very end of the song and it felt very soothing. It’s a little ghostly lullaby.
Read Jóhannes Bjarkason’s feature on Nanna’s solo debut and learn more about her creative process in our Sound On video series.
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