There’s no denying the fact that we’re big fans of Skálmöld here at Soundscape, and as well as attending four of their UK dates on their tour with Eluveitie and Arkona (you can read our diary of events here!) we also sat down with vocalist/guitarist Björgvin (centre) and drummer/vocalist Jón (far left) for an in-depth chat ahead of their show in Bristol. See below to find out more about their new album, playing live with a symphonic orchestra, what happened when Jón attempted to hijack the bus, Björgvin getting lost in London and some ‘interesting’ Icelandic words. You won’t want to miss this one!
Hello again! How’s it been going since the last time I interviewed you in October last year?
Björgvin: It’s been going really really good.
Jón: Yeah! Since that tour, we did the gig with the Icelandic Symphonic Orchestra and that was absolutely amazing. We also did a theatrical show for Baldur, our first album, but we had all that nonsense of having a lot of other people around us and we just wanted to be a band again, so we wrote a new album and recorded it.
Björgvin: And it’s just been officially released!
What’s the general response been to Með vættum?
Björgvin: Really really good so far.
Jón: Unbelievably good! I mean, the reviews are really good and yeah, we’re kind of proud of it!
Björgvin: Yeah, we are!
I’d say it’s my favourite one so far.
Björgvin: I think everyone in the band feels that this is the strongest album we’ve released so far.
Jón: Yeah, I’m really confident with what we’ve done!
Björgvin: It’s a bit heavier and a bit darker than the previous two, but I like it! (laughs)
When I first heard it, my favourite track was the penultimate one, Að vetri, but after seeing Að Hausti live, I think that one may be my favourite now! Was that one made with more of a focus on playing it live?
Jón: That song is…well, it was like the bastard of the album!
Was that one more of a challenge to get down then?
Björgvin: It was.
Jón: Yeah, we didn’t quite know what we wanted to do with Að Hausti when we got to the studio, and after we recorded the drums and the bass, and the first guitar we were like “Damn this! It’s not a good song!” But then something happened and it just clicked. Then Napalm Records suggested that it could be the first single and we were like “…that song?! Really?” So then we started listening to it and trying to play it live, and now I think it is one of the most fun ones we play. It’s been growing on us because we didn’t really like the song that much!
Björgvin: I’m really looking forward to playing Að vetri.
I can’t wait to hear it either!
Jón: The problem with a lot of our songs on the new album is that they’re really really long! So we have maybe a 35 minute set, so we have to take most of the shorter songs! If we played Að vetri and Kvaðning, we’d pretty much be able to do nothing else!
Björgvin: We did a show a few days before we got on this tour in Iceland where we played five songs off the new album…and they were long! (laughs)
How do you approach writing such detailed tales to feature on the albums?
Björgvin: The stories and lyrics on basically all our albums have been exceptionally good, and I can say it because I didn’t write them!
Jón: They’re just really well written lyrics and poems, to the point that they’re actually being taught in schools now.
Björgvin: Yeah, schools and even the university of Iceland is using some of the poems. Snæbjörn just has a knack for it I guess!
I think my favourite character of the three is Þórunn, the main character of Með vættum – despite the fact she’s so young, she’s also so strong and powerful, and I love that she’s female!
Jón: We thought it was time to have a female heroine! The idea of the wights came up as an idea before Börn Loka but we didn’t quite find a way to put it in. So we thought it would be nice to focus less on the mythology thing and more on Icelandic folk tales.
Björgvin: More or less, it’s based around this very small story about the wights, when the King of Norway sent a giant whale…
Jón: He sent a wizard that turned himself into a whale to spy on Iceland because he wanted to get Iceland back under the Norwegian crown. But wherever he came ashore, one of the wights would come and drive him off. A tiny, tiny story with huge and really cool creatures!
Björgvin: The story is basically about this wizard turning himself into a whale and swimming to Iceland, but then just going back to Norway.
Jón: That’s it! (laughs)
Björgvin: The elements in the story are so fucking cool!
Jón: We had to use them and we got a rather cool story that spans her entire lifetime. It was a growing up story, a coming of age story, so there’s a lot of layers in it.
Björgvin: It’s all about these cycles, in a way. From birth to death.
Jón: It’s all very deep and cool, because we’re artists!
Do you have any thoughts of what the concept of your fourth album will be, or is it too early days for that yet?
Björgvin: We’ve always talked about making a lullaby album, basically where all the poems are lullabies but the music would still be our style.
Jón: But we’ll let Snæbjörn come up with that!
Björgvin: Maybe the next album could happen in the future.
Jón: Space Vikings!
Moving onto live shows, you also performed a show with a symphonic orchestra and choir in Iceland – what was it like to get the call asking you if you’d like to do it?
Jón: It was something we had been joking about, even from way back when we started the band. “Yeah, we’d love to play with a symphonic orchestra, ha ha ha! Then we can make this part of the song huge!” But it was so surreal when it actually happened. It was so much fun!
I can imagine – it looked so fun!
Jón: The whole process was. We got a friend of ours to do all the arrangements and he originally comes from a heavy metal background. He’d been in a band for quite a long time and now he’s a classical composer, so he approached both sides with a lot of respect. He told us that he was going to take away parts that we usually played to give to the orchestra because they needed the challenge as well! It came as a surprise that they actually treated it with a lot of respect. We thought on the first day that we’d be looked down on a bit, as part of the clashing cultures, but it never ever felt like that. It was just fun the whole time.
Which song do you think worked best with the orchestra?
Björgvin: Sorg is my favourite because that’s one of the furthest away from the original.
Jón: And Hel, of course.
That one is mindblowing – Edda is such an incredible vocalist!
Jón: Seeing the faces of the symphonic orchestra in the first rehearsal, when she walked onto the stage and then that voice came out – you could see their jaws literally dropping!
You should tour with her band Angist so that you can play that song live on tour.
Björgvin: I would love to do that. You know, we once tried playing that song without Edda…and we will never do it again!
Who did her vocals?
Björgvin: We shall never speak of this again! (laughs) But it was Þráinn.
Jón: He did his best and it was not bad…but it was not Edda!
Björgvin: It just didn’t feel right!
Obviously I know something like that takes a long time to plan, but will you be doing any more in the future, perhaps with some tracks from Með vættum?
Jón: Hopefully. It’s a real bitch to get a symphony orchestra – they plan like two or three years ahead.
Björgvin: And the thing with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra is that they’re one of the coolest bands in the world because they do this every two or three years, working with rock bands and us, from the metal genre, but I think it would be a bit weird if we were to do it again with the orchestra.
So it was just a complete one-off thing then?
Björgvin: In a way, but I really hope we can do it again!
Jón: It would be no problem selling out every single show because it worked really well last time and I’d say it was the best thing the symphonic orchestra did! So I hope so!
It’s one of my favourite live DVDs ever – I hope one day I’ll get to see it in person! Keeping on the subject of live shows, how’s the tour with Eluveitie and Arkona been going?
Björgvin: Really good.
Jón: The attendance has been remarkable.
Björgvin: The majority of the shows have been sold out, and some of them got sold out and upgraded, and then sold out again!
Jón: I think the bands are really good, and we’re making friends, and everybody’s happy!
Björgvin: We’re making a bunch of new fans too, and people are also showing up early so we don’t have to play in front of empty rooms!
Jón: Yeah, and in places we’ve been before, like some of the gigs in France, Spain and the UK, we’ve seen people wearing shirts from the last tour, which is cool! So it has been remarkably good.
Which has been your favourite show so far?
Björgvin: I’m sorry, but France is the best! The crowd in London was good but I’m sorry, it was France!
It’s funny you should say that – lots of bands talk about how amazing the crowds in France are.
Björgvin: In my opinion, the French crowds are one of the best.
Jón: They go absolutely crazy. In Lyon, it was the first time I’d seen crowdsurfing in song number two! We’re a support band, what?! So yeah, my favourite was probably the Lyon show. It was a really cool venue as well.
What was the venue like?
Jón: New. Very professional, very new. All the equipment was amazing. It must have been city or government funded because it was the most expensive brand of everything! All the microphones and equipment was just the most expensive you can get. Nobody does that when they’re running a club, it just doesn’t work! But everything was really clean and the halls were shaped so that it was meant for loud live acoustics so our sound engineer had a really easy time. It was actually the second time we played in Toulouse – it wasn’t the same venue but they were both the same quality. I don’t know what’s going on there!
Björgvin: I think there’s a third one there actually in Toulouse as well. We might have to check it out!
Jón: However, the UK shows have been really good as well! The London show was so much fun.
Björgvin: Yeah. All of the shows have been really good but for me, France stands out.
Jón: There’s something really magical about playing there.
Björgvin: There’s just something in the air when you play in France.
Any interesting stories to report? Has Jón managed to avoid getting rug burn on his face this time round? (Note: on both the Heidenfest and the Finntroll tours, he managed to scuff up his face in exactly the same place!)
Jón: Well, my face is okay this time!
Jón: It’s always been after the seventh gig when my face goes all crazy and this time I was going to make sure that nothing like that happened! And it didn’t, but I had this surgery on my shoulder this summer and I got this muscle relaxant stuff for when I start cramping up so I don’t ruin anything, and I took one on the seventh night…and it was not quite what I thought it would be because the day after when I read the pamphlet with it and got to the side effects, pretty much all of them happened! I woke up and everybody was looking at me strange. Apparently, I tried to hijack the bus because it was the Millennium Falcon but I don’t remember anything! They might actually be making that up, but-
Björgvin: No, no we’re really not!
Jón: But my face is good, at least.
Björgvin: He was speaking in tongues. Also, me and our sound engineer got lost in London.
How did you manage that?
Björgvin: (laughs) We arrived in London the day before the show and at some point, we had to get out of the bus to assist the driver.
Jón: It was a very narrow road with very heavy traffic. And there was this gate, so he asked them to jump out and help him to lift the gate. They were just in their pyjamas.
Björgvin: We’d just woken up!
Jón: And as soon as he got through the gate, the traffic just grabbed him and he couldn’t stop, so we had to move on.
Björgvin: We started walking after the bus, thinking that he will find a place to stop.
Jón: And he thought that he would just drive in a circle and come and pick them up. But they were not there when we got back, and they didn’t have their telephones or wallets, and had no clue where they were in the world!
Björgvin: And I had no idea where the bus was going!
Jón: Our driver was just sat there like “oh my god, I’ve lost them! They’re going to freeze to death, they’re in their pyjamas! But finally they showed up two hours later.”
Björgvin: We managed to get back to the year 1997 and find an internet café, so we contacted some of our girlfriends back home in Iceland and they phoned the guys on the bus.
Jón: Then one of us got off the bus and tried to find a street sign.
Björgvin: And we put it into Google Maps and finally found our way back. Yeah, that was fun!
Jón: But we’re all still here!
Björgvin: For me it was a lot of fun but our sound guy…he was not so happy! I think he might still be mad!
And now a couple of random and quick-fire questions to round up the interview! My dad is in charge of a running club and they all have silly captain names – for example, his name is Captain ‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost’. If you were to do something similar, what would you do?
Jón: I would appoint “Run Forest, Run!” as our club name and Snæbjörn would be in charge. He would have to have a P-Bear name. Captain P-Bear! The P stands for porn.
If you could choose an animal to represent the band, what would it be?
Björgvin: The Icelandic sheep.
Why the sheep?
Björgvin: Because they are way, way prettier than your sheep. Or maybe a red dragon. Or both! A sheep riding a red dragon!
Jón: Or a sheep-dragon. Like, a dragon with a sheep’s face!
(The pair of them proceed to make noises of what said sheep-dragon would sound like)
Jón: I’m sure we’ll manage it in photoshop or something.
Björgvin: We have computers.
What is your favourite word in Icelandic and what does it mean?
Jón: Okay. (There is a long pause.) I think my favourite Icelandic word is náriðill.
Björgvin: Oh dear.
Jón: I like the sound of it because it is a rather beautiful sounding word but it is very, very disgusting. It basically means necrophiliac! I think it’s my favourite. I think the most beautiful word might be ljósmóðir though, which is the word for midwife. It translates as ‘mother of light’.
If you could replace the soundtrack to a movie with your own music, what would you choose?
Jón: After the last tour, I think I would say Predator.
Björgvin: Die Hard for me.
Jón: The first one?
Why not both? An album for each?
Björgvin: Yes! Perfect.
And finally – what is Skálmöld’s plans for 2015?
Björgvin: Hmm…well, we have confirmed several festivals this summer. Hammerfest, Rockharz Festival…and we also have some other offers for festivals and tours.
Jón: We might start writing some new stuff because that kind of just happens! Baldur gets really bored with playing songs that somebody has already written, even though it was him that wrote them, and he always wants to play something new all the time.
Björgvin: At the first rehearsal after we finished recording Með vættum, he started talking about making a new one! “When are we going to write a new album?” “Let’s release this one first, Baldur!”
Jón: But yeah. 2015 will see more music and more tours!
Come back and do a headline tour here – you can have a longer set and play some of the other tracks off Með vættum!
Björgvin: Yeah, certainly!
Jón: That would be nice.
Björgvin: I like that idea.
Jón: We will do one some day, definitely.