Interview: Guðmundur Óli Pálmason-Drums
Big hails to Iceland! I have to confess, that I have been looking forward on the new album like hell. I´m absolutely satisfied with “Köld”, maybe even more than with “Masterpiece of bitterness”. Could you somehow compare those two albums?
For us “Köld” is a direct continuation of “Masterpiece of bitterness”, a natural progression. I guess the biggest though difference is the way those two albums were written and recorded. “Masterpiece of bitterness” was written over a long period of ca 2 years, and recorded mostly in weekends over another long period of ca 1 year in our friends house in a small fishing village on the south coast of Iceland.
“Köld” on the other hand was recorded in 3 weeks in a vintage analogue studio in Gothenburg, Sweden. And although it was also written over a period of ca 2 years, most of the writing took place in the last 6 months of that period, as we just booked the studio to put some pressure on ourselves. It is the first time we can work in such a way, as we have never before had a label waiting for our album. When we started recording “Masterpiece of bitterness” we had no label interest at all. But we knew at that point we must make an album or call it a day. Fortunately we were too stupid to quit, but “Masterpiece of bitterness” was recorded with a great deal of uncertainty about it’s very future, and the band’s as well.
OK, just before we’re going to debate the present times, I would like to ask you a few things about your history. Czech fans may find interesting that your first EP came out through Czech label “View beyond records”. It was during year 1996 and “Solstafir” were just at the start. How you came to contact with Pavel Tušel? At this time, he was one of the biggest underground adventurers here. Are you still in contact with each other?
We got in contact with Pavel through a guy called Uncle Underground. He used to distribute demos and such if my memory serves me right. We had already recorded 6 songs which we intended to release as our second demo, namely Til Valhallar. But Pavel offered us to release them as a mcd on his View Beyond label. But due to some time regulations a mcd could not exceed 21 min, so we had to drop 2 songs from that release. It has later (in 2002) been released in it’s full length in Russia, and will soon be released (in full length) on vinyl. We met Pavel when he travelled to Iceland, in 2002 if I remember correctly. A very nice guy indeed, but I don’t think we’ve had much contact with him since then. But still today he gets all our respect, and we’re still thankful for him giving us our first chance!
During the release of „Í Blóđi og Anda” you were quite famous here in Czech republic. Practically, “Solstafir” came into mind of every fan, when talking about Iceland. But lately you have vanished from the eyes and your records since “Black death” to “Masterpiece…” were almost impossible to get here. But what troubles me most, is the big dwell time between the first demo and first full-length. What has been happening back then? Maybe you were too occupied with thinking about the future sounding of the band. Because the later recordings are very different.
We’ve never ever made a conscious decision about how to sound. I guess it might be hard for others, especially given the long time between releases, but we can see a natural progression from our first demo all the way up to “Köld”. We’ve been doing this band for 14 years, since we were 16 and 17 years old. Of course our ideas, tastes and ultimately our sound changes. But we always build on what we have done before. Black Death: The E.P. was recorded in between Í.B.O.A. and “Masterpiece of bitterness”, although for the outsider it may seem like it was recorded shortly after Í.B.O.A. because of the 3 years delay with that album. Black Death was originally recorded as a 5 song promo in our rehearsal space, but was never released as such as Ketzer productions got hold of them and asked us to release them as a 7″ep. Now obviously we could not fit them all on a 7″ep, so we had to cut it down to 3 songs.
The long time from our debut full length to “Masterpiece of bitterness” was because of endless delays and situations beyond our control. We started recording it in 1999, but it wasn’t released until 2002, so just there it might seem we had 3 years off, when in fact we didn’t. Then as I said earlier we started recording “Masterpiece of bitterness” with no label interest behind us at all. It took us a year to find a label that was willing to release it, and thus giving us the finance and will to complete that album.
You had a lot of contacts in Czech republic. Have you worked with someone else here? What about some Czech bands? Have you liked some of them back then?
MASTER’S HAMMER has been one of my favourite bands since I discovered them in 1994 or 1995, I still love them today, but I think I am the only one in the band that does, haha. I used to listen to Root a lot as well, so it felt quite strange going on stage after them on our very first out door festival (Festung Open Air in Germany last year). I also listened to MANIAC BUTCHER and DARK STORM many years ago.
Personally I think that important change in your music came with the EP “Black Death” when you joined the progressive side of black metal. I consider this change as great, but what are the main reasons behind this musical change?
Like I said before, we don’t see any changes as such, just a natural progression from one thing to another, so I really can’t tell.
“Black death” is wonderful insanity! It’ s almost punk/crust/black metal! How you managed to came with something like this? Although your debut was hiding some hints of punk (or gothic?) music, but the “Black Death” is truly original psycho!
How do we do it? Idunno? How does one do anything? Just don’t confine yourself within a certain way of thinking. Don’t lock yourself in a box, no matter how big or small that box is. Don’t ignore influences and inspirations because they don’t “fit” into your box. I guess the most important thing is that we all listen to a wide range of different music, and nothing is a taboo for us. We let the music write it self, each song tells us where to go, and we just give in to the feeling. Even if a song wants to be a happy love song, then we won’t disown it, although that hasn’t happened yet.
Now about “Köld”, which I´m spinning in my player since I´ve got my hands on it. Album came out 4 years since it´s predecessor and it´s release was quite lengthy (at least for me, the horny fan). So, what is the main reason, that the gap between the each album is so long? Are you trying to be as rigorous as possible, or do you need more time to work?
We do sometimes tend to write a bit slowly, we like to give the songs a chance to progress before we record them. But there were other reasons as well. Originally “Köld” was supposed to be released in early 2008, but as we finished the recordings on 23rd December 2007 we were totally drained and worn out from the writing and recording session. We rehearsed ca 5 times a week for at least 6 months before recording, to finish the writing and to be as tight as possible. Then we lived in the studio for more than 3 weeks, all sleeping in the same room. After that 3 of us went back home to Iceland, but Svavar went straight to Greece to live with his (then) girlfriend, so the band lay kinda dormant at that time. We thought that Fredrik would start the mixing in early 2008, but he had some problems with the owner of the studio double booking it, plus he was having his 2nd child and working in a hospital. So the mixing dragged on and on and we were too worn out to put any pressure on it, or to even think about it at all. It took us a few months just to get going again, and in the summer we started putting some pressure on the mixing to be done. Basically the mixing didn’t start until September or so, and we thought that in no way did we want to release this album the same time a year as M.O.B. was released which was between xmas and new years, making it a year old already a week after it’s release, so the release date was pushed to January 2009.
“Köld” is even more progressive than it´s predecessor. It is very difficult to classify you into some genre. Have you noticed some interesting response to “Köld”? After all, I think that Black metal fans are going to be really surprised.
Actually we find this album to be more simple than “Masterpiece of bitterness”, as that album (and Black Death and Í.B.O.A. too) had some songs with really strange arrangements.Take the title track for example, it has 2 riffs in it, and each riff has 4 notes, and Necrologue basically has only one riff. But the responses that amuses me the most is this new trendy word of the day, “shoegaze”. No one mentioned this word in relation to “Masterpiece of bitterness” at that time, but now everyone seems to agree that we are “shoegazing”, haha. “Cowboy bootsgazing” is more like it!
Can we consider that “Köld” is a concept album? Are the songs united in some story, or every song stands for itself?
It’s not a concept album in that sense. It’s strange how I and Addi (we write all the lyrics) seem to be writing about the same kind of stuff at the same time. M.O.B. was not a concept album either, but most of it’s lyrics seem to have a red tread running through it, something to do with fire and light (within). Köld on the other hand is much more personal, and all it’s lyrics (even the title of the instrumental song) have to do with the same thing. I don’t think I have to explain that further, as the lyrics are pretty much self explainatory.
Atmosphere of the album is unearthly sad…almost spine-chilling. From where such disbelief and depression comes?
The root of all evil is a heart of a black soul….
I would like to elaborate about few songs… At first I wanted to avoid such question, but curiosity was stronger. I don´t how it is possible, but I hear Hammond keyboards in the ending of the song “Köld” (right in the 6:40). These were often used by Hard-rock bands in 70ties. If it is not them, how you managed to emulate this sound?
Yes, it is a real Hammond, and it actually starts at 4:15, but the drive comes in at 6:40. We wrote the song with the intention of using a Hammond there, and where the drive kicks in it gives so much power. In the studio it was even greater, Addi and Fredrik had the volume really cracked up, and I remember the room literally shaking when the drive kicked in. But it can also be heard in Goddess of the Ages if you listen carefully, we didn’t want it to be too high in the mix there, it’s just to make the sound a bit fatter.
Another remarkable moment of the album is the song “World void of souls”. This ambient-based composition has some interesting hidden meaning for sure. Could you reveal it for us?
There is nothing hidden in our songs really. We might not say some things straight out, but we’re not hiding them either. I had a certain “thing” in my mind when I wrote that lyric, and I think it is not hard to tell what it is about.
“Love is the Devil (and I am in love)” is on the other side, the most surprising but also most accessible song on the album, mainly because of fairly sung chorus. This song reminds me an American band “Helmet”. Do you know this band?
I know them, yes, but none of us do listen to them. Maybe I should check them out.
Talking about influences… well it´s quite hard (at least for the one reviewing it) to compare your music to some other band. But some moment are evoking me the great albums made by “Radiohead” or even “Fields of Nephilim” with whom you share similar “cowboy-like” image. Are you interested in these bands?
Yes, those two are bands. Somehow we seem to like a lot of British goth rock and new wave bands. Duran Duran being the best obviously!
You’re involved with musical scene for a long time. But could you evaluate the Island metal scene? As far as I know, there is a lot of Black metal bands there, like “Myrk” for example. Is it hard for band from Island to get known internationally?
MYRK actually split up many years ago, some of those guys went on to form a band called MOMENTUM. Iceland had a rather big Deathmetal scene in 1990 – 1993, but then suddenly it all but vanished. In 1998 a rather strong Hardcore scene was born with highlights such as MÍNUS and I ADAPT (r.i.p. 2008), both of whom are/were very active in touring Europe and U.S.A., though MÍNUS progressed into a more rock’n’roll band. But in the last few years the Deathmetal/Blackmetal scene has been growing again, spearheaded by bands such as MOMENTUM, SEVERED CROTCH, HELSHARE, ATRUM), DARKNOTE, etc… while the Hardcore/Metalcore flag is flown by bands such as CELESTINE and GAVIN PORTLAND. And then we’ve had blackmetal lonewolf eccentrics like our friend Eldur (www.myspace.com/blackmetaleldur) of Potentiam with his many solo project such as Curse and Fortíð composing black mass operas in a cave since 1995. Yes I think it is hard for bands to brake out of Iceland. We can’t just jump in our cars and tour the mainland (which is essential to build up a fanbase and get label attention).
I confess that Iceland is one of the countries I would like visit one day. It may be boring for you but could you somehow sum up the life on Iceland? On the other hand, have you ever felt like you would like to move outside of the state?
Well, I’ve been living in London for almost 6 months now, and will be here for at least the next 3 years. Addi has been living in Glasgow for almost a year now and Svavar was living here in London for the first half of 2008 (moving over from Greece with his girlfriend). It looks like the band will be re-locating to London this summer. I guess live in Iceland is like live in any other small country, it can be great but it can also suck.
Do you somehow feel influenced by the nature or environment when composing? One of my friends once told me: “Sólstafír” of Iceland …They always sounded differently when compared to others.
Not directly, no. But it does affect one’s psyche to be born, raised and live in such a beautiful but desolate and isolated island, and our biggest influence is our own psyche and personalities.
Now a special question… personally I´m a fan of Island’s cinematography, and my favourite film is “101 Reykjavik”, to which I have been laughing for the whole time. What do you think about this movie?
Yeh, it is ok. Not one of the best Icelandic movies, but then again the best ones probably no one understands if he/she is not Icelandic (I don’t mean because of the language). But then there are also the cult Viking moves from the 80’s by Hrafn Gunnlaugsson; Hrafninn flýgur (Flight of the raven, aka The Raven), and Í skugga hrafnsins (In the shadow of the raven) which are basically rip offs of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, which are in turn rip offs of older Japanese samurai movies by a director who’s name I can not recall.
Ok, back to Sólstafir. I´m interested if your position in Europian measures has got better with Spikefarm records?
Yes, it has. They have a better distribution than we ever had before. The label that released Í.B.O.A. went bankrupt just about the same time as the release, so it never got any proper distribution.
Is there a slight chance that we could see you live in Middle Europe, or even in Czech republic?
I really do hope so. We’re gonna do as much touring to follow up this album as possible.
Thanks a lot for answers, on behalf of Rumzine, goodbyes from ALL. Once again, thanks for the extraordinary experiences I´m enjoying with your music.
Thank you for this interview and the support! Our Greetings to Pavel Tušl! Don’t polish the metal too much, it’s the lust for the colour and texture of rust!!