Founded in the autumn of 2004 by nine musicians living in Reykjavik, Iceland, Stórsveit Nix Noltes are a hugely talented and creative collective united through a mutual fascination for folk music from Bulgaria and the Balkan areas. Comprising of members of múm, Benni Hemm Hemm, Lost in Hilderness, Númer Núll, Rúnk, Kanada, Hestbak, and Kría Brekkan, among others, the group initially took shape at a class led by guitarist Hilmar Jensson at the Iceland Academy of the Arts.
Recorded in an old farmhouse in the countryside,during the long, dark days of the Icelandic winter, their debut album “Orkídeur í Havaí” was released on 12 Tonar in 2005. Well received locally, including a nomination in The Icelandic Music Awards as indie album of the year, Stórsveit Nix Noltes soon found themselves playing much bigger venues and festivals, whilst continuing to enjoy the direct social connection and intimacy of playing in small venues where people would dance the whole night through.
In 2006 US label Bubble Core released Orkídeur í Havaí in the US, allowing the band to tour much further afield. They were invited by Animal Collective as supports on both their European tour in November 2005, and in North America the following year, including a slot at SXSW festival in Texas. In the UK, they also opened up for Emiliana Torrini and Benni Hemm Hemm.
Now expanded to eleven members, Stórsveit Nix Noltes recorded their second album, Royal Family Divorce , outside Reykjavik during the last few sunny summer days of August 2006. Produced by the band themselves, the album was domestically self-released in December 2007. Remastered in October 2008, the record was picked up by UK label FatCat and is set for its first release outside of Iceland in 2009.
The members of Stórsveit Nix Noltes are Áki Ásgeirsson (trumpet, cornetto and computer), Eiríkur Orri Ólafsson (trumpet – múm / Sigur Rós), Ingi Garðar Erlendsson (trombone, sousaphone and euphonium – Benni Hemm Hemm), Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir (accordion – múm / Animal Collective / Mice Parade / Kría Brekkan), Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir (violin), Hildur Ingveldard Guðnadóttir (cello – múm / Lost In Hidurness / Pan Sonic), Gestur Guðnason (electric guitar), Hallvarður Ásgeirsson (electric guitar, banjo), Guðmundur Steinn Gunnarsson (electric guitar, acoustic guitar), Páll Ívan Pálsson (double bass), and Ólafur Björn Ólafsson (drums, melodica).
OK, so Iceland – Bulgaria. What’s the big connection?
Gestur: The music has a connection to what I generally seem to like in music but presents it in a exotic way.
Varði : A country of farmers and sheep.
Was the initial idea of SNN to play Bulgarian folk songs – or did it morph into that later on?
G: It started out as a weekly get together in art school where people met and played this kind of music. The idea was to play Bulgarian folk but not to form Stórsveit Nix Noltes.
V: It was the concept from the beginning. It brought us together in a different way then before.
How did the band initially form/meet?
G: It has been forming over a long period. I remember me and Óli and maybe Hildur when we first started out. People have been added and subtracted from the band a lot. I can hardly ever remember exactly who’s in the band.
V: I was in there from the start! In the beginning it was 3 guitars, drums, cello, violin, and accordion. It was a strange line up. But I liked it. The winds came in later the same winter. The weird thing about the line up was the 3 guitars. It’s easy to distribute parts between 2 guitars, but 3 is harder! So we would kind of double each other. I think that created this weird sound that is still part of the band.
Kristin Anna: I was not in the school. But a music teacher there, Hilmar Jensson pulled me off the street one day and told me to come play music with these group of people, bringing whatever instrument. It hasn’t changed so much since we started being more of a band, but a member might go live in this or that country for a while and the band can still play. Lately half of the band has been studying or living abroad, so maybe that’s why Gestur has forgotten who we are.
Is it just Bulgarian folk you play, or other folk too?
V: I brought in an Icelandic folk song once. It’s on the backup song list.
Hildur: We also play a Greek song, and with some songs we are not completely sure about their original origins.
K: Yes there is this Greek one. And when we are off stage and in good company we might burst ino an orchestrated karaoke song cascade.
What does the band name actually mean?
H: Stórsveit means big band in Icelandic. Nix Noltes has a ever changing meaning. The name is a bit like the band; it is a big band that changes all the time. I think the name has a completely different meaning from what we had in mind when we started.
K: Yes and the dynamic range of the meaning of the words in the name is appropriate for the music. Stór being BIG. The rest of the word, sveit, means the country, land, the farm.
In the vocabulary in our work process we use the word NIX a lot as a verb for the status or outcome of idea trying to puss through. And the Noltes connection is for anyone to give his own meaning to. At the time the name was created he clearly stood for something wasted.
You’ve been compared to Beirut and Hawk & A Hacksaw – what sets you apart from them?
Don’t know. Computers and electric guitars?
V: We’re a new genre. It’s called orchestral art noise. Coined by a British journalist.
K: Doesn’t Beirut play mostly in 4/4? We never do that. Hawk and a Hacksaw definitely have a better accordion player than we do. And I think we are much more of a happening-gathering than a band in comparison to these names.
On stage there seem to be anywhere between 9 and 12 of you – but who forms the core of the crew?
G: Everybody is vital but we are also capable of performing this music in smaller numbers. So it depends on who’s playing when.
V: Everybody in the band is the front man, and the backing band at the same time. It’s a unique energy, a band of 11 soloists playing together!
You toured with Animal Collective a while ago: how was that experience for you? And who else have you toured with recently?
G: Sleepless, great to have the opportunity to play a big sound to a large crowd every night. Nice guys.
V: I felt it was very inspiring to see the discipline they have, and the energy. They’re the hardest working band I know about. Sometimes I was lazy and didn’t feel like rigging the guitar amp, and I’d find that one of the guys from AC had already done it. They do everything themselves, even at that point, when they were already getting pretty big.
Your second album Royal Family-Divorce is about to come out – when and where was it recorded?
Late August – September 2006. It was recorded in a studio called Flís just outside of Reykjavik.
What was your approach with this one, as opposed to your debut?
G: More bold in doing whatever we wanted. I think everybody took it a bit further in his personal direction.
V: The sound developed a lot through touring. I think the main change is this attitude of being unafraid. Being right on from the very beginning.
You tend to beef up the folk with some hefty rock guitars – is this still a gameplan of yours?
G: Sure. Anything that the music brings out in you. This is intense music.
How many people are on the new joint – and do you have any surprise guests?
G: Eleven. I think there’s some bombing from road construction in the background somewhere.
And the title – what’s that all about?
G: The traditional style of this music is played at weddings in Bulgaria. Our version is pretty twisted and abstracted and divorced from the tradition.
How would you describe the new album to someone who hasn’t heard it or doesn’t know the SNN sound?
G: Somebody said it sounded like the last party on earth, epic, loud, ancient and futuristic. I dig that.
What touring/other plans do you have for 09?
G: We’ll have to wait and see. Hopefully there will be some gigs.
V: I’d like to play on another tour. It’s been a while. AC, are you reading this?