Last year, I travelled to Djúpavík in the West Fjords of Iceland. It was a grueling drive, over kilometers of unpaved, rough road, along sheer cliff edges and around sharp mountainside corners. The sea was hidden by fog, and all that could be seen were the bleached white bones of driftwood that had piled up on the shore.
On arrival, I was greeted at the hotel like a long lost friend, and the rigors of the day were chased away with a home-cooked meal of pan-fried cod, and more than one glass of the finest Icelandic beer. It was during my stay at this hotel that I came across the music of Svavar Knútur.
Svavar plays acoustic folk, or as he would have it, Fjord Folk or Troll Pop. Whatever you call it, it was the perfect accompaniment to this welcoming and relaxing end of a tough day. I’ve become a fan as a result, and I managed to fire a few questions at this singer/songwriter.
Where in Iceland are you from?
I’m from all over Iceland actually, mostly the northern part. My father’s West Fjord heritage reaches from the Barðaströnd area to Flateyri. His family was also from Skagafjörður, Siglufjörður and Grindavík. My mother’s family is from Borgarfjörður Eystri and Djúpivogur. So, all over I guess. However, in my adult life, I’ve gravitated to the West Fjords a lot. I just love it.
When I traveled to Djúpavík, the hotel there was playing your album. They tell me that you frequently play at the hotel. Is this true?
One of the places I’ve connected to the most is Strandir, especially Djúpavík. The people there have become my second family and I love to go there to visit and play music. I also like to spend New Years Eve there with my family, away from the fireworks, drunkenness and general mayhem of Reykjavík.
Is it important to play these smaller, more local shows?
I love to play small, local shows out in the country. I don’t know if it’s important, but I guess it’s important for me. It keeps me grounded and I also like to stay in touch with people.
Where is the best place in the West Fjords to visit?
The West Fjords are in themselves the best place! There’s just so many beautiful places, from Patreksfjörður to Selárdalur, from Dynjandi to Dýrafjörður, from Ísafjörður to Hólmavík and the Strandir region! Oh my god, the Strandir region.
How would you describe your music? What does ‘Troll pop’ or ‘Fjord folk’ mean?
I guess it’s pretty personal. I’m very autobiographical in my music and I try to keep it simple but elegant and expressive. Fjord folk kind of means just this connection to the sea and the mountains in my music.
Where did the idea for Kvöldvaka (Campfire Songs) come from?
Kvöldvaka is a collection of songs that describe the journey from misery to redemption and happiness. Beginning with coping with death and loss, then gradually moving on to serenity, new love and genuine wellbeing; just some songs by the fire. The Kvöldvaka idea basically involved inviting some very musical friends to the studio and playing the songs mostly live and having them sing and play along. That worked out famously.
Do you prefer playing solo, or as part of a band?
I love playing with others, but it’s both more practical and more intimate playing alone. I love to travel with my music and honestly, it’s a lot easier alone.
If you weren’t a musician what would you do?
If I weren’t a musician? I’d probably just wing it. I love working socially and also inventing ways to make life better on the societal side. Maybe I’d be a guide or something. I don’t know. I just love being active and working. But I’d probably want to be my own boss. It’s hard to go back to having a boss after being independent for so long.
Will you be playing Airwaves this year?
I’ll probably do some off venue gigs if I get any invites, but I don’t think I’ll be a part of the official program. Sometimes it’s just good to back off and give others some space.
What’s next for you? I know you have an album coming out soon.
There’s a truckload of touring coming, also parenthood. I have a wife and two daughters that demand my attention. My new album Ölduslóð (Way of Waves) is coming out in September, featuring my daughter’s artwork. That’s one of the things I’m really happy with in life, being able to include my daughter in my art. My solo albums always have her artwork on the cover, so basically as I develop as an artist, my fans can follow her vision of her father as well. It’s our little family art project.
I think Svavar might just be the modern troubadour, making his music, and telling his tales of Northern Iceland everywhere he goes. As I leave the hotel, I buy one of his CDs. I think I’m going to need some calming Fjord Folk to get me through the drive back to civilization.