Three years after your previous release “Autumn skies” (September 2013), the album “Vittu til” was released on 14. July 2016. It was recorded from March 2014 until April 2016. So you took your time. Can you tell us a bit about the origin of this album please? Why this title? And not something with “spring” (vs. Autumn skies, Winter sun)? For the first time an Icelandic title for an album as well!
Hehe! Yes that is a good point. In my mind “Winter Su”n and “Autumn Skies” were kind of related. In some way they are linked. Hence the similar titles. But I knew very early on that this new record, “Vittu til” was going to be something very different. To tell you the truth after touring “Autumn Skie”s I kind of got sick of myself. I felt like I had been going down the same road for too long and I didn’t feel the urge to finish all the ideas for songs and music that came into my head. So I knew I needed a change. A big change. I needed to find a way to reconnect to my songwriting. I needed to find a new approach to what I was doing. So the most obvious thing that I could do was to try writing in my native language. That was a big challenge because I had gotten so used to writing in English for the past 6 years that it was like learning how to do it all over again. It was a very refreshing and revealing process. The new songs also were different too. I kind of moved away from the folk-y stuff that has been at the center of my music for the past few years and started writing more poppy, soul-influenced stuff. I stopped picking and started strumming and I saw in which direction I wanted to take my music. It happened very naturally, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I fell in love.
A selected group of musicians were standing besides you to record this album, f.ex. Valdimar and Örn Eldjárn. How was it working with such a talented bunch of musicians?
I am an extremely lucky guy. It just so happens my best friends are also my favourite musicians in the world and they want to be in my band.
Guðmundur Óskar Guðmundsson (bass) is, with full respect to the other members of my band, my right hand man. I trust his judgement even better than my own. I always play my songs to him first and get his approval before we play them to the rest of the band. It has been that way ever since I made “Winter Sun” with Sindri Már Sigfússon. I went to Gummi and played him through my group of songs to get his thoughts and ideas because I was so nervous to meet Sindri because I am such a huge fan. Gummi was very helpful and creative as always so I just have kept doing it ever since. Gummi handled most of the production of Vittu til. He’s got a great ear.
Magnús Trygvason Eliassen (drums) is one of my oldest friends. We were in our first band together in high-school called “Saab” with Högni Egilsson and Teitur Magnússon and a few other friends. He is simply the best drummer in Iceland. The Icelandic scene would sound and be very different if he hadn’t been born here. He’s an amazing musician.
Örn Eldjárn (guitars & vocals) is also a fantastic guitarist. He plays a lot of slide guitar on this album. He’s got a very good ear and has a knack for finding really atmospheric slide guitar parts. He’s also a great singer with incredible range.
Valdimar Guðmundsson (bassoon and vocals) is the newest member of the band. He and Örn have been playing music together for a few years and it is kind of through Örn that Valdimar came into the Snorri Helgason orbit. We were somehow always hanging out together so the next logical step was for him to join the band. He’s an amazing singer and has incredible vocal control. He is also a lot of fun to be around.
Hjörtur Ingvi Jóhannsson is an old friend that I know from the band “Hjaltalín.” I used to be in this band, “Sprengjuhöllin” and us and Hjaltalín used to tour around Iceland a lot and we got to know each other very well. And when Sprengjuhöllin broke up and I started my solo career, I started opening for Hjaltalín on their European tours. And soon, Hjörtur and Gummi (who is also in Hjaltalín) started playing with me in my opening sets. Hjörtur just moved back from Amsterdam where he was studying composition and when he got back, me and Gummi originally contacted him to do the strings and brass arrangements for the album but he ended up playing a lot of piano and keyboards and becoming a full-time member of the band. I really love his arrangements on this album. They take it to the next level.
Daníel Friðrik Böðvarsson (guitars, vocals) came into the band during the recording of “Autumn Skies” and plays some mean guitar on that one. He lives in Berlin so he’s usually just with us whenever he is in Iceland. But he did play a lot of key stuff on “Vittu til” as well. He provided the big stadium solo guitar parts in “Tvö á lífi” and the weird close harmony vocals in “SH draumur” and he helped me with the arrangement of the synths and piano in “Tungl, flóð og fjara”. He’s an amazing guitarist that does a lot of his stuff in long expressional one-takes. He’s gifted.
Sigurlaug Gísladóttir (vocals) is also one of my oldest friends. We’ve known each other since we were about 12. We were boyfriend and girlfriend when we were 15. Very cute. Then we kind of drifted apart for a few years when I was in Sprengjuhöllin and she became a member of “múm”. Then we reconnected in 2011 just when I was recording Winter Sun and she came in and did some amazing backing vocals on that album. Pretty soon we were playing a lot of shows together and became best buds again. She lives in Berlin now and is touring her solo project, “Mr. Silla” and doing great. She did some really nice vocal parts on “Vittu til”, especially on “Einsemd”. She also designed the cover which I really love.
You performed in a volcano recently, supporting act of The Deftones’ singer Chino Moreno. Tell us about this exciting, explosive gig inside an Icelandic volcano.
What songs did you perform there? New and/or old ones, covers, …
Yeah that was really crazy gig. The weather was absolutely crazy and we were flown in by helicopter that just barely managed to land on the lava fields and we ran into the volcano, holding our guitars really close so they wouldn’t fly off somewhere. Then we went down there and I sang an old Scottish folk ballad a capella and one of the songs of “Winter Sun” called “River”. I wanted to test the acoustics in the cave so I wanted to do one a capella one and one with the harmonica so I chose those two. Then Chino played his set and we rushed back up into the crazy weather to be rescued by the coast guard helicopter. It was absolutely bonkers.
Back to “Vittu til”: can you tell ROK something about each individual track?
This is a song I wrote in Íafjörður during Aldrei Fór Ég Suður festival 2015. I was hanging around my hotel room with my girlfriend Saga and listening to Spilverk Þjóðanna and basically loving life and started writing this lyric.
This is an old song I wrote when I was in Denver, Colorado a couple of years ago. I was staying at a friends house and everyone had gone to sleep and I was staying up playing guitar by his pool and started playing this guitar riff.
I wrote this song in Galtarviti, a lighthouse in the west fjords of Iceland I go to every summer. It’s about a time in my life when I was living in commune/party place with Teitur Magnússon and Siggi T (the drummer from Sprengjuhöllin).
This song I wrote while I was vacationing in the south of France. I was driving around all that Van Gough country down there. Those hazy pink and purple fields around Arles and Avignon and started writing this blues lyric in my head. When I got back to our house that night I tried playing some blues guitar figure and sang the new lyric on top of it and it fit. So I had a song.
This is a weird little tune. It’s just the same chord sequence over and over again. Danni plays a really over-the-top guitar solo in it that I really love. We wanted to try to capture the sound of playing a big rock solo to an empty stadium.
This song I also wrote at the lighthouse. It’s the folkiest song of the bunch. It’s got a strange chord progression and Hjörtur’s string arrangement is really weird and fitting. I like it.
My friend Bergur wrote the lyrics to this one. I had been carrying this song around for a couple of years and playing it a lot as a sort of guitar exercise before I realized I should finish it and turn it into a proper song. So I added the middle part and asked Bergur to write a lyric and he came up with this cryptic thing about time and humanity.
This is song almost has a guitar riff in it. Which is very unusual for my songwriting. It started off as a kind of a joke but I just kept coming back to it and then I played it to the band and it really klicked. It’s one of the most fun songs to play live.
This song started out as a kind of bluesy soul piano-based song but ended up as the albums’ most upbeat song and it’s first single. The arrangement came about when we started playing this song together as a group and it changed dramatically from the original idea. It’s got a great guitar hook from Örn and a string hook from Hjörtur.
This is a song about Reykjavík. Reykjavík during one of those endless sunny summer nights. It’s a special thing to witness and a lot of good times have been had under those red skies.
Listen to & buy the whole album here: http://snorrihelgason.bandcamp.com/album/vittu-til
Last year you released the song “Bæn” from the movie ‘Bakk’ (2015). Was this the first song used in a soundtrack? How did it come so far? By coincidence? Invited to do it?
Yes I did all the music for that film “Bakk”. The director Gunnar Hansson is an old friend and actually contacted me to do the music when he hadn’t even finished writing the script yet. I’ve had some of my music used in films before but that was my first full soundtrack. It was a lot of fun and I really learned a lot from it.
Listen to the song here: http://snorrihelgason.bandcamp.com/track/b-n
Of course we all know you from the very popular pop band Sprengjuhöllin, who released 2 best-selling albums in Iceland. Previous ‘partner in crime’ and stand-up comedian Bergur Ebba wrote the lyrics of the song “Tungl, flóð og fjara” on the new album. How was it to collaborate again? Future plans to work together with him or other Sprengjuhöllin buddies?
Yes me and Bergur are reall close friends. We have a weekly podcast show called “Fílalag” that has been going for over two years now. It’s about pop history and all the weird little connections you find in all that. Us Sprengjuhöllin guys are in fact all still very close. The only problem is the members live all over the world so I don’t think we will do any more music in the near future.
I was really stuck with this one song I was working on for the new album. I had written like 6 different sets of lyrics to it but I was never satisfied so I decided to ask Bergur for some help and he came up with this really nice lyric.
Sprengjuhöllin live on Icelandic television (2006)
Sprengjuhöllin live on Icelandic television (2007)
You are the ‘Son of Helgi’, a member of popular folk band ‘Ríó Tríó’, so music runs through your veins I suppose? How did/does your dad influence you as a musician? Any pressure to try walking in his shoes…
Yes I suppose my father being a musician and a folk musician no less must have had a big influence on me growing up. I remember my dad’s band having rehearsals in my living room and I of course went to a lot of his shows and was backstage and all that. That must have left an impression. But he didn’t pressure me into going into music or anything. In fact, he did the opposite. I didn’t start playing music myself until I was about 16 and I basically taught myself how to play.
My dad is pretty famous in Iceland, especially with the older generations, so people know I am his son and maybe that gives them some preconceived notions about me and my music. I don’t know if this is a good thing or not.
Your début solo album was entitled “I’m gonna put my name on your door” (2009). How did this title came up?
It’s a title of one of the songs of that album. It’s a song about commitment.
After your first album, you spent some time in London. Why was the big city London “calling”?
I wanted to try to live somewhere else than Reykjavík. The Reykjavík music scene is very close-knit and safe, which can be a very good thing and a very bad thing. Everything is easy here. Getting gigs and interviews, finding people to play with so I wanted to try to be somewhere where I had to stand on my own and try to make something happen. It was really more of a school than anything else. I had to learn a lot really fast so that I could do something and make money while I was there. I played a lot of very, very shitty gigs. Also some good ones. That is good for you. To remove yourself from you comfort zone.
How was it to be back in your hometown? After your return, “Winter sun” (2011) and “Autumn Skies” (2013) were your recordings. What do you think about your 3 previous releases if you look over your shoulder?
The Sprengjuhöllin albums are very dear to me. Especially the first one. On the second one I was in a weird place as a songwriter and we rushed it too much. We were really hungry and cocky and wanted to do everything faster than made sense. We went up like a rocket and exploded just as fast.
My first solo album I haven’t listened to in years. I don’t like looking back to much and I never play any of the songs from that album live any more. I’m sure it’s a fine record but I am not the right person to make that call.
Well it’s time to go back to the future. Perhaps plans for a tour abroad? More volcano gigs in the land of fire & ice?
I don’t have any immediate plans to tour abroad. Me and Teitur Magnússon plan on doing a little tour of Poland in the spring of 2017 but until then I will be focusing on Iceland. I will be recording a new album this summer. It’s a proper solo album, just me and the guitar and the songs are inspired by Icelandic folk tales and legends. I hope that one will also come out by the end of the year.
Final question: Your all time favourite Icelandic album/favourite song?
“Arinbjarnason” from the album “Sturla” by “Spilverk Þjóðanna”.
Thank you Snorri and good luck with your new album.
More information about Snorri Helgason can be found here:
- Wim Van Hooste
All photos by Peter Males at the Secret Solstice – Midnight Sun Music Festival 2016 in RVK