Sometimes the Internet seems like it’s messing with you, just for fun. As I sit, freezing cold in my little brother’s bedroom in a Manchester council estate, somewhere in Iceland is a woman sat in what are likely colder conditions, telling me about her day. “It’s four o’clock and it’s already getting dark” she tells me with a wonderful Scandinavian twang. This isn’t any woman, though, this is Ólöf Arnalds. A multi-instrumentalist, she has a degree in composition and new media, whilst also spending 14 years studying violin and classical singing.
A former member of the increasingly influential Múm, she’s since moved on to doing solo work, and with great results. Originally brought out in 2006, her debut Við Og Við was finally released in the UK earlier this year. The 29 year old admits: “I felt like making something very exact, very clear”. A beautiful, stripped back folk record, it’s simple in its means but lavish in outcome. “I sing and play in all of the recordings; they’re all like live. I tried to have people at the studio listening. It’s like storytelling, that’s the idea” whilst only using additional instrumentation “to add a little colour”. After working with bigger groups, she finally found the need to “do something I could stand and fall with completely”. It’s a record that’s easy to lose yourself in, which might be thanks to Ólöf singing in her native tongue: “I wrote the songs in Icelandic. I feel a strong connection with my language and I totally believe that you can give some people a complete understanding though they might not know all the words”
Produced with Kjartan Sveinsson from Sigur Ros, it’s an incredibly personal effort. “It deals with my relationship with different individuals. Every song is about a family member, the first song is about a friend of mine”. The idea of a Lily Allen style airing of grievances is laughed off, though: “It doesn’t go into any details of anything like that, it’s more about the way that people connect, as well as sorrow and other things”. And any idea of Kjartan heavily influencing the record is firmly rebuked: “I guess he was just helping me out, helping me getting out of my head onto tape. He wasn’t in any way trying to shape or produce it in the ‘producer’ sense of the word. He had a very strong idea about how to record it.”
The 3 year wait for her debut to hit British shores is put down to “waiting to work with the right people”. And whilst we might have been robbed of one of the most delicate and touching long players in recent memory for a while, it also shortens the wait for Innundir Skinni, which has already been recorded: “It’s being mastered now, and then I’m going to be working on the cover art”. We can expect a release sometime around March, promising a grander sound. “It has more elements and more instruments” Ólöf enthuses, “There’s a similar idea in working with whole takes and live takes but now with more musicians playing”. The new record sounds exciting already, with the promise of “more colour and a lot more experiments”, including half of the album being in English.
Whilst the UK has a history of making musicians with more ego than talent, it seems that Ólöf follows the trend of the Nordic countries unique mixture of being both humble and frank. She struggles to compare her latest effort with her debut, admitting that “there are not that many songs” recorded for her follow up. Without emotion, she concludes “I threw away some songs to keep the whole picture clear”. As the conversation draws to a close and the time on my Skype conversation recording trial runs perilously close to ending, there are hints that still a lot to come from her yet: “I’ve started writing songs for the second-next album”, which, in a cold back room in Manchester, is about the best news you could hope for.
This interview was conducted early December 2009. For whatever reason, it wasn’t published (or at least, hasn’t been yet), so rather than let it go to waste, here it is. You can purchase Ólöf Arnalds glorious debut Vid og Vid from One Little Indian‘s online shop here: http://www.onelittleshop.com/product_info.php?products_id=866. If you’ve not heard any of her work before, here’s a sample:
Ólöf Arnalds – Klara (Aol)