Evolutionary! An interview with Olafur Arnalds

If you love the serenity of that auspicious Icelandic sound-scape formed by the likes of Sigur Ros, their beautiful spinoffs Amiina, KYTE and (perhaps not so much the more energetic but nonetheless kickass) Leaves etc, you shouldn’t leave it too long before you allow 21 year old Ólafur Arnalds and his spine tingling sounds to infiltrate your soul.

Described as fragile, emotional and classical indie, his music effortlessly instils an exquisite chill factor into the listeners’ undertakings. Utilizing strings and looped piano amidst a mighty electronics and beats borne ambiance, 'Eulogy for Evolution', his critically acclaimed debut LP is out now on Erased Tapes Records and, like all good artists worth their salt, he’s got second one in the making.

Thankfully, OA found time to answer some Qs for the Glasswerk massive…

AS: Where do you go when it all gets too much?
OA: To my parent’s house in Mosfellsbær. It is so nice there.

AS: Is bedtime more half nine with a half read paper or more half four with fully red eyes?
OA: Half four with fully red eyes.

AS: Who would be your dream collaborator?
OA: At the moment I am working with Yndi Halda and that’s awesome, a perfect combination!

AS: What’s the last gig/concert you went to?
OA: I work a lot doing live sound so I go to a lot of shows, good and bad. Think the last show I did was a metal concert – Sólstafir and my old band, Celestine. It was alright, although Sólstafir had 5 minute pauses between every song while endlessly tuning their guitars, which got a bit annoying.

AS: What’s the best music video?
OA: Björk’s ‘All is full of love’, and Radiohead/Unkles ‘Rabbit in your Headlights’ and that other song where the guy is lying on the ground… I can’t remember which song it was, but it gave me the chills. (Just?)

AS: Do you believe in love at first sight?
OA: No, but a crush or likeness yes. I think this “love at first sight” is based on what you think this person might be like.

AS: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
OA: Inspiration is a complicated thing. I mean, some forms of inspiration are just physical, like how your fingers tend to move this way on the piano and that creates a certain chord sequence. Some of it is conscious, like you listen to something else and you think “Hey, I want to write something like this”.

But I think most of it is subconscious and drawn from everything you listen to, or at least in my case, the movies you watch and the people you meet.

AS: Any regrets, missed opportunities or things that might’ve been?
OA: Of course, but I don’t really regret any of them. I’m perfectly happy with my life and being a supporter of the butterfly effect theory – my life wouldn’t be as it is today if it weren’t for all the things I did in the past, good or bad.

AS: Were/are you aware of your escalating popularity?
OA: Yes, and I think being aware of that is important.

AS: Where do you most enjoy playing live?
OA: As for countries, I think Germany, but it’s much more depending on the venue. I enjoy theatre like settings or churches.

AS: When do you plan to take over the world?
OA: I thought I already had!

AS: Wish you were doing anything else with your time other than music?
OA: No, never. But sometimes I need a break. The funny thing is that when I decide to take a break from writing music, I usually end up just writing some other kind of music.

I’m writing a new album and then I got writers block and decided to take a break for a couple of weeks, within which I just wrote techno music.

AS: Did you have any heroes when you were a teenager?
OA: My dad still is my hero.

AS: What are you listening to right now?
OA: My own feet making drumbeats on the floor, but I was just listening to Phoenix in the car, they’re a great French band!

AS: Any career highs or lows you care to share?
OA: I once played an underground venue in Germany with train tracks just behind its walls, so every 5 minutes or so my music would be drowned out by really loud train noise.

On top of that the sound engineer decided for some reason to run the DI boxes on batteries (instead of using phantom power from the mixer) and of course batteries always run out at some point. In this case it was in the middle of a song; the piano started crackling and then just fell out.

I say (admittedly in a bit rude tone) into the microphone “what’s going on? Don’t tell me you were using batteries for the DI box?” “Yes” he says and I reply “That’s not very smart; just use the phantom power from the mixer”. He says “yes” again, walks on the stage and changes the battery in the DI box.

“Why are you changing the battery? I ask him “Just use the phantom power”. He says “yes” again, finishes changing the battery and walks back to his mixing desk. About 3 songs later the battery runs out again!

AS: Do you enjoy playing live or are you more at home in a studio?
OA: I love playing live; it’s where I feel most at home. I enjoy being in a studio writing and recording music as well. Sometimes it feels like nothing is working and that’s not very enjoyable.

AS: Any upcoming music / bands worth keeping an eye on that are destined for greatness?
OA: I know I say this in every interview because they’re my friends, but check out Bloodgroup and Kimono! Both bands definitely destined for greatness!

AS: How important do you feel visuals are in relation to music?
OA: I am more hoping that my music doesn’t need the visuals so much and that people can make up their own visuals in their mind.

We are just about to start using mobile visuals though, shadow figures and stuff, instead of typical projections. But we mix it a little bit with the traditional projected visuals. I’m looking forward to seeing the result at the first shows of our tour this summer.

AS: I’m sure you’ve done a few but, do you know which has been your best ever gig?
OA: There are way too many great ones to mention, but some of my favorites off the top of my head are Karlsruhe, Germany (Dec 07) and Brussels & Belgium (Feb 08). Both those shows just worked perfectly in every sense.

AS: What will this year bring?
OA: Some intense touring, a new EP and I’ll start recording my next full length in December.

AS: Are you unlucky in love?
OA: Yes, very much so I would say.

AS: Best song, movie or LP ever?
OA: Song: ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac.

AS: What’s your secret vice, what are you a sucker for?
OA: Justin Timberlake, techno and girls that speak with an English accent!

AS: What’s your favourite instrument?
OA: Piano and Viola.

AS: Are you a good dancer?
OA: I actually really enjoy dancing; I’ll leave it up to someone else to answer whether I’m actually good or not.

AS: What kinds of music do you dislike the most?
OA: Raggabeat. But I believe that there are gems in every single genre of music.
AS: If a musical style was to become extinct, which would go first i.e. jazz, folk…?
OA: Raggabeat!

AS: When will the world end?
OA: December 21st, 2012??

AS: How important are the charts?
OA: Very important actually. The charts are probably the best promotion you can get.

AS: What era would you have been born in ideally?
OA: This one.

AS: Are exercise and diet important?
OA: Yes of course. I try my best to live a healthy life, it makes you happier.

AS: Have you got any famous relatives?
OA: Ha-ha yes, too many.

AS: Which rules, the digital age or the vinyl/cassette age?
OA: If record labels play their cards right, the digital age will rule! However I love the big vinyl artwork.

AS: Do you have any unused band names you’d love to use?
OA: No, but I’m looking for a DJ name; any suggestions? The internet suggested Mix-Masta Scratch but I don’t know!

AS: Have you ever been conned into or out of something?
OA: Ha-ha no not really. Once I decided to call the number on one of these “YOU HAVE WON!” pop-ups on the internet just to see what it was about. They kept going on about how I had won a trip to the Bahamas and I just needed to pay the ‘one fifty dollar’ ($1.50) booking fee.

I was like yeah yeah as they kept sending me through to different departments (but were obviously just a bunch of guys sat next to each other) and each department head would say “CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR FREE TRIP TO THE BAHAMAS! Now I just need your name and address blahblah”. Then when they asked me for my credit card I asked them the amount and they were like “one fifty times 4 + tax will be $800”.

So the “one-fifty” was actually one-hundred and fifty and this trip wasn’t free at all… buggers! (Not that I ever really believed them).

AS: Do politics have a place in music?
OA: Yes, I think it’s totally up to the musician what they want to accomplish with their music. Political reasons are no worse than any other reasons.

AS: Thanks so much for your time Ólafur, all our best…

Click this link for full OA info or this link for full info on the equally splendid record label.

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