Interview: Ylja

“It’s a song about hope. Hope to find someone but at the same time enjoying the ride and going your own ways. Its title means ‘fortunately’,” Gígja Skjaldardóttir and Bjartey Sveinsdóttir from the Icelandic quintet Ylja tell us about “Sem Betur Fer”.

It’s one of the singles off their second album, “Commotion”. It came out late in 2014 and is a great occasion to ask the band about their origins, language preferences and their view on Iceland’s music scene.

English vs. Icelandic:

“We have both written lyrics in English and Icelandic. It just depends on how we feel at that time when we are writing the lyrics. Sometimes we get an idea and decide if it would sound better in Icelandic or English. We have only once translated a lyric from English to Icelandic. That was the song ‘Dúmdaralara’ on our debut album. We originally wrote that in English but at that time we wanted to have the whole album in one language, and that was Icelandic.”

“Before we went on writing new stuff for ‘Commotion’, our second album, we talked about having it mainly in English, but we were going to keep an open mind for anything that would come up during the process. So as it happened, ‘Commotion’ has two songs in Icelandic and the rest is in English.”

Ylja’s beginnings:

“We started to sing and play together when we were 17 years old. We met in our high-school choir and decided to participate together in the school’s song contest. After that we just kept on going. We became best friends and luckily we share many of the same interests. We kept on practicing – as we also started playing the guitar around the age of 17 – playing covers of all sorts and soon we were writing songs and lyrics together.”

“Ylja means ‘warmth’. But it sounds more poetic in Icelandic… I promise!”

From duo to quintet:

“In the fall of 2011, our dear friend Smári Tarfur, a great guitar player, joined our duet to form our little band and played with us on the slide-guitar. We released our debut album in December 2012. We liked the simple sound at first and were afraid to add a drummer to the band. We were looking for a double bass player for some time until we decided to go for an electric bass.”

“After Smári left the band we thought that we wanted to use that ‘chance’ to change and expand our sound with some amazing guitar player and Maggi Magg our new drummer told us about Örn Eldjárn after having been with him in a band called Shadow Parade when they where starting out. We had all known about and admired Ingibjörg’s bass playing skills and we thought she would fit perfectly in our little family, which she has done.”

On ‘Commotion’:

“Fot the new album, we wanted to try some new things and expand the sound. We have been developing for many years and this is that sound we were perceiving. Örn has a unique way handling his electric guitar and uses all sorts of effects that makes the sound dreamy, powerful and exciting.

Ingibjörg and Maggi also make a rhythm team that makes the sound overall very different from our last album where the music was more folky and the sound more warm and acoustic. Our new stuff is a little darker and more mysterious and I guess you could say more experimental.”

Icelandic scene’s fertility:

“It might have something to do with the fact that we are a small population so it’s easy for everyone to know one another in some way. Also the music scene is very diverse, nobody is doing exactly the same thing. So instead of competing with each other, we use each others powers to back one another up. Örn is for example in a 3 bands… that we know of.”

One Icelandic artist we should know:

“Right now everybody needs to check out Prins Polo:”

Ylja on Soundcloud, Facebook, YouTube.

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