Elíza Newman released her 4th solo album last month. This LP has the title “Straumhvörf”. This was a good opportunity for ROK to do an interview with this ‘grande dame’ of the Icelandic music scene and make an overview of her career so far.
Hello Elíza! Please introduce yourself in 1 sentence.
I´m a singer-songwriter, a violinist, ukulele extraordinaire!, a music teacher and a dreamer from Iceland.
When did music come into your life? When did you start to sing?
There was always a lot of music playing in my house since I can remember, my dad plays guitar and there was always records playing. I started at music school when I was 6 years old in Keflavík, first on the recorder then moving on to the violin. From there on music has been a big part of my life
Which instruments did you learn at school, at a music academy, later on in your life?
I started on the recorder, then moved on to violin and then moved on to classical singing in my late teens. Later on I went on to graduate as an opera singer from Söngskóli Reykjavíkur, and doing further studies in London at Sirry Ella Vaughan’s opera studio. I also did my Masters in London in Music education and psychology.
The postpunk band Kolrassa krókríðandi was founded in 1992 by four female teenagers at Keflavik, the number one rock city of Iceland. How did you girls meet? Probably at school? What kind of music did you listen to at school? Favourite ones, posters on the wall?
We met at school and became friends around 13-14 years old. We were not into sports and cars like most kids in Keflavík so we were a bit odd, kind of a nerd gang! But we loved that and did everything we could to shock people J we dressed in old clothes and did art happenings at school gatherings, so it was only a natural progression from that to form a punk band! Maximum exposure and lots of noise! At first we were really into ‘Pandora’ (a local band) and ‘Led Zeppelin’ but then we moved on to British new wave and shoegazing music, like ‘Ride’, ‘The Stone Roses’, ‘The Charlatans’ etc. We wanted to sound like them but came out like some kind of gothpunkfolk
The band won the Músíktilraunir (Musical Experiments) competition, a sort of battle of the bands for Icelandic youngsters, that same year. So quick and you were so young … What was the secret of your success?
No fear was our secret, we had nothing to loose and everything to gain! We loved all these new experiences, playing gigs in Reykjavík, meeting other bands and artists. We hit the right note at the right time. Iceland was ready for some new wave indie played by four 16 year old girls! There had been a big wave of deathmetal before we came along and after we won the competition the indie sound became dominant for the next years.
You changed the name of the band later on in ‘Bellatrix’ and became famous and toured in the UK. Can you tell us some anecdotes of your British adventures?
Well it was quite a rollercoaster ride and not all the stories are suitable from print I think! J We just went with the flow and played tons of gigs with loads of bands like Coldplay, Gene, dEUS, Blur and many more and had a blast!
Live gig of Bellatrix (The Cavern, 1999 (?))
“Sweet surrender :
“The girl with the sparkling eyes”:
You were the frontlady of the rock band Skandinavia (2004). I think is was in the period you studied in the UK to become Opera singer, wasn’t it ? Tell us more about this study and band…
I wanted a change after Bellatrix went on a break and do something completely different like opera and heavy rock! So I did post grad studies with Sirry Ella Vaughan in London who by the way is an amazing teacher! And at the same time decided to form a heavy rock group called Skandinavia. We were signed on the first gig we did and went on to do a couple of singles in the UK and an album and got some great reviews so that was a fun detour J
You have your own record label “Lavaland Records”. How come? Why this name?
I formed it to release my first solo album “Empire Fall” in 2007 but then went on to release other people I liked like Trúbatrix, Gísli, and Wolfette. I’ve released 12 recordings on it now, which is kind of cool. I chose the name because it reminded me of home
Your first solo album on this label was “Empire Fall”. It is one of my all time favourite albums. How did you made this album? Friends? Inspiration?
I recorded Empire Fall in Iceland with Kiddi from Hjálmar at Geimsteinn studio and Hljóðriti, two of Iceland’s oldest and nicest studios. I was really trying to strip everything down to the basics. Simple vocals, and quite a minimalistic sound. It was kind of a new start for me and I needed to take the music to that starting point too. I am very happy with that album and I think we captured that moment very well now when I look back.
“Return to me” from Empire Fall (2007) :
You had your Andy Warhol’s ‘15 minutes of glacier-volcano fame’ on Al Jazeera TV Station. What’s the story behind this appearance? Just lucky? Networking?
That was just one of those things that happens! Maybe you call it luck but I just think its quite funny like life often is! I was doing my masters in London and gigging around and the TV station heard of me through a friend and called me up out of the blue. They asked me to come and help with the pronunciation of the word Eyjafjallajökull and maybe do a little song. So I wrote the song while I waited for the cab and then went live on telly and the rest is history haha! It became Al Jazeera´s most popular news piece ever which is kind of fun J
Eliza goes Al Jazeera:
It took a while before you released your 2nd solo album entitled “Pie in the sky” (2011). A different style than your solo début album…
It was released in Iceland in 2010 so not too long, three years or so. Again I wanted to do something different so I went more pop with that album. I started to work with Gisli Kristjánsson on that album and he helped me create that soundscape. Kind of dreamy indie pop with a dark undertone….!
Title track “Pie in the sky” :
Your third album was “Heimþrá” (2013). A very intimate, Icelandic one, how come?
Mosty because I was homesick and I wrote an album about it. I started to write in Icelandic again and that was my way of singing my way back home again which I did.
Album teaser :
All time favourite Icelandic album?
“Götuskór” – Spilverk þjóðanna
All time favourite Icelandic song?
“Og co” – Vilhjálmur Vilhjálmsson
All time favourite Icelandic music video?
“Jóga – Björk
Tell me about your new album Straumhvörf?
I’ve just released my 4th solo album “Straumhvörf” and am busy promoting it at the moment. Its more in the style of Kolrassa then my other solo stuff but still my style of quirky pop. It was a lot of fun making it and it’s all recorded here at home in Hafnir Reykjanes. You have violin solos, recorders, ukulele, guitars, super claps, fun and frolic! The new single “Kollhnís” just entered the chart in Iceland so I’m pretty happy!
Takk fyrir & all the best with number 4 “Straumhvörf”!
Got interested? Here’s more about Elíza :
Icelandic Music Museum item about Kolrassa & Bellatrix :
- Wim Van Hooste