Interview: Óbó

Multi-instrumentalist Ólafur Björn Ólafsson – or Óbó for short – has played with such Icelandic artist as Sigur Rós, Emiliana Torrini, múm, Jóhann Jóhannsson and many more.

In November, he finally released his debut solo album “Innhverfi” on Morr Music label. Here’s what he told us about it and about the Icelandic music scene.

On the origin of “Innhverfi”:

“I started recording this album a long time ago, about eight years, and had it mostly finished about three years ago. I was about to become a father at the time and I knew that I would not have any time to work on it for a while – so I let it wait a bit. Soon after I started touring with Sigur Rós as well. So for a long time the album was just sitting in my hard drive. This year, when I had finished touring, I decided to do a little bit of more recording and mix it again and then finally let go of it”.

On language:

“I had tried singing some of the songs in English but it just didn’t sound convincing. The Icelandic language has more possibilities for me. ‘Innhverfi’ is a made up word but it involves the words ‘suburbs’ and ‘introvert’. I was brought up in the suburbs of Reykjavik and that’s where I recorded the album too.”

“I wrote some of the songs while on tour but I kept coming back to my old childhood home to record them between tours since that’s where I had my instruments and recording equipment – and where I practiced my instruments when I was younger and rehearsed with bands. The idea behind the album was to go back to my childhood home to record these songs.”

On the very beginnings:

“I started music lessons when I was about six and started my own band about the same time. We actually played at the school dance and made quite an impression. It gave us lots of street credit from the other kids. I have been playing in bands since then and I never really thought I could get away from it. Although I make a living as a professional musician I try to preserve the amateur approach to musicianship as it is really based on curiosity.”

On the single “Rétt Eða Rangt?”:

“I was inspired by a book I read by the English theologist and children’s writer C.S. Lewis. In the book, Lewis is establishing a moral law of right and wrong in relation to religion. The lyrics to the song also relate to the day when I was baptised.”

On the Icelandic music scene:

“If the Icelandic music scene is unique then the reason is probably a mixture of few things. I find it amazing that for a long time there was almost no musical practice in Iceland, no musical scene to speak of. In general, it was only in the beginning of the 20th century that we started importing instruments from abroad and playing music, apart from a few exceptions of course such as in churches.”

“For centuries the Icelanders were very poor so they didn’t have any instruments. Iceland was of course also very isolated from the more civilized parts of the world. While Europeans had Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, the Icelandic people had sheep baa. So it seems to me that the Icelandic music identity that is now being seen as unique is very young and still in the making.”

“Then, when we first started having more money and became independent from Denmark, in the mid of last century, we jumped in to modernism and took it from there. The Icelandic National Orchestra was founded in 1950. Appart from a few exceptions and pioneers who managed to become musicians in such dire times before that, our first generation of composers were essentially modernists.”

“The Icelandic music scene wouldn’t be like it is without this fact and maybe that’s why musicians here are probably willing to try out different things.”

And his favourite Icelandic song:

“I think the song Birthday by The Sugarcubes still sounds pretty amazing. Excellent drum track.”

You can follow Óbó on Facebook.

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