Ólafur Interviewed by Dazed Digital
Songs He Found – Icelandic multi-instrumentalist Ólafur Arnalds brings us his new collection of daily compositions
By Liane Escorza Published 24. August 2009
Ólafur Arnalds is a multi-instrumentalist from Iceland who composes string and piano music with post-rock sensibility and in the kindred spirit of Sigur Rós, with whom he toured as supporter in 2008 when promoting his debut album “Eulogy for Evolution“. A new collection of tracks entitled “Found Songs” is to be released on the 31. August. Each one was originally composed in a day and for seven days, while making each track available in the following 24 hours via Twitter and Facebook. Ólafur talks to Dazed about his creative world, classical influences, the controversial ‘Icelandic sound’ and eating disorders.
Dazed Digital: When was the first time you ever thought of becoming a musician?
Ólafur Arnalds: First time I thought about it seriously was probably when I was 13 or so and had just been moved to a more professional music school for grown-ups. I was studying drums back then and wanted to be a professional drummer.
DD: What draws you to the tempo and genre of music you create as opposed to other styles?
Ólafur Arnalds: Well I’m drawn to pretty much all styles so I’m not sure if ‘as opposed to’ is the right way to say it. But what mainly draws me to this style is the harmony. How you can have all these different voices in different instruments going in all different directions and then when they come together they all sound like one… The challenge of making that sound right and the theory behind it is very interesting to me.
DD: There has been much talk about the Icelandic landscapes influencing musicians. Do you think it has much of an input or is there more at play?
Ólafur Arnalds: It might have some input but I think this ‘Icelandic sound’ that everyone keeps talking about has nothing to do with Icelandic landscapes. I think it has to do with the community, we are a small country and playing music is just something that everyone kind of does… and we all do it together, we influence each other. That being said, I love nothing more than going away to my family’s summerhouse, which is in one of the most beautiful places on earth, setting up a mini-studio there and write. But I think it’s the peace and the nothingness that’s inspiring rather than the view.
DD: Tell us a bit more about the 7 songs in 7 days odyssey.
Ólafur Arnalds: Well I realized that I had loads of song ideas that I never really had any reason to finish cause they didn’t really fit with what I was doing on my albums. I wanted a chance to finish them and get them out of my system, to clear my head even. I thought that giving them away was fitting as they weren’t necessarily supposed to be fully developed ideas. So I decided to take one week where I would dig up these old ideas (hence: ‘Found Songs’) or come up with new ones each day, finish the song, record it and release it. It was really just a personal challenge, but it was also kind of a social experiment because I released all the songs just through my Twitter and Facebook pages and I let people follow the whole process really closely. They were also able to submit their own artworks to the songs then and, now, as we are releasing the songs in a physical format we are using those fan submitted artworks in the album booklet.
DD: As a challenge, do you feel you reached the satisfaction you were looking for?
Ólafur Arnalds: Definitely, working like that really makes you grow as a composer. I do this regularly now; just go away for a few days and do absolutely nothing else than composing and set myself rules about not staying for too long on each idea so I don’t get stuck.
DD: What music have you been listening to lately?
Ólafur Arnalds: I’ve actually not been listening to much music lately apart from my own because I’ve been really busy writing. But when I allow myself to take a break I have been listening quite a lot to The National, Phoenix and Fleetwood Mac.
DD: If you had to choose a dish of food that represents your music, what would it be?
Ólafur Arnalds: Haha! You’re asking a guy who has an eating disorder and pretty much hates all food…
DD: What’s the best thing about recording in a studio? And the worst?
Ólafur Arnalds: Well I’m kind of a perfectionist so the fact that I can spend as much time as I want on perfecting the production and bringing new creative ideas to the table is pretty awesome. I find it very easy to be creative in a studio environment. But sometimes I get impatient, cause everything takes quite long. I don’t always like having to spend many weeks in a studio just to record a few minutes of music… it’s kind of a love/hate relationship, really. The worst thing is probably how expensive studios are!
DD: What is the most amazing moment you encountered when recording this album?
Ólafur Arnalds: When I noticed how inspired I was getting by my producer Barði Jóhannsson. The first song we worked on is a song with the working title ‘Síðrokkarinn’ and just hearing that coming to life and taking complete changes was really amazing.
DD: What has been your biggest influence when making ‘Found Songs’?
Ólafur Arnalds: It’s hard to say because the original ideas come from really different time periods. Some stuff is definitely influenced by Debussy and Bach and some other stuff influenced by the more modern Max Richter. Some of the ideas were originally ideas for TV Advertisement scores that I didn’t use, so they were just inspired by whatever the storyline was. But I think the biggest influence was actually the concept of the whole project, the fact that I was locked inside my room for a week by myself.
DD: What makes this album unique and different to the others? Do you feel there is an evolution musically and personally?
Ólafur Arnalds: Well this is more just a collection of 7 individual songs rather than one concrete piece of work. That alone makes it very different from the others. The music is much less fixed on a certain style, like I said, the concept of the project was to get songs out that didn’t fit in elsewhere. There is definitely an evolution and I feel like a better musician after the experience.
DD: Musically, where would you NOT like to be in the future?
Ólafur Arnalds: Doing only one thing… being stuck in the same place. Although the music may stay essentially the same, I need to evolve.
DD: When will we able to see you play live again?
Ólafur Arnalds: That is a good question! I’m not going to be on tour again until the next full-length album is out (I’m guessing early 2010) but I do say yes to the occasional offers for one-off shows if they are good, so there are a few things coming up. But I will also be performing my score to Wayne McGregor’s new Ballet ‘Dyad 1909’ at Sadler’s Wells in London for 5 nights in a row in October. I recommend checking that out!
Ólafur live @ Evangelic Church @ Off Festival, Poland 9. August 2009
Ólafur Arnalds @ MySpace