This is a love story. Mike Lindsay, best known for his work with English folk-tronica band Tunng, first went to Iceland for the New Year’s Eve celebrations in 2006. He describes this as “like a war-zone, where everyone is more drunk than you, and yet still setting off fireworks out of their hands.” It was during these mad celebratory times that he met an Icelandic girl, named Harpa.
Mike returned to London, and tried to forget about Harpa, Iceland and presumably, tried to clear the ringing from his ears.
…until 2010, when Tunng played Iceland Airwaves music festival. Mike met Harpa again, and they were reunited. Harpa took Mike to Húsavík, a small fishing village in Northeast Iceland. Mike came up with a plan. Not much of a plan, but a plan. He decided to spend two months in a small cabin in Húsavík, making music, spending time with Harpa and drinking up his newfound obsession with Iceland. To sort the first part of the plan, he borrowed instruments and a name from the local landscape. His cabin overlooked Kinnarfjöll, which translates as ‘Cheek Mountain’. Cheek Mountain Thief was born.
Cheek Mountain Thief, the album, was released in August. It is an aural pleasure; a mixture of layered vocals, soft strings, folky guitar, parping brass and surprising percussion.
If hipster band Bon Iver were the last musicians to employ the ‘disappear into a remote cabin’ method of making music, its proof that it works, but in very different ways. Bon Iver deal with melancholy and lost love; Cheek Mountain Thief is more positive, probably due to love found.
Mike is similarly complementary of the Icelandic music scene. “It’s amazing,” Mike tells me. “It’s difficult to define, it twists and turns and overlaps. Our drummer is in ten different bands, I’m sure. ” Mike is clearly embracing this different sort of scene. You can feel this influence throughout the Cheek Mountain Thief record, and especially on tracks such as ‘Showdown’ which features a shouty Icelandic backing vocal, or Sin Fang style twinkling strings on ‘Spirit Fight.’
Supplemented by top quality Icelandic musicians at every turn (Sin Fang, Mugison) and given a final mix by a member of múm, it certainly feels Icelandic. I would call it a triumph. Mike is also pleased with its reception. “I didn’t know if the media would get it; it’s a very personal record but they did, and they were very complimentary.”
Mike and I clearly share a passion for Iceland. We spent some time chatting this through. Mike starts off by saying that the main attraction to Iceland is that “it’s not London,” but he is joking. He describes his appreciation of the landscape – “alien, different and prehistoric,” but it’s the Icelanders that have captured his heart. “They are just so welcoming and warm. They have a general personality trait that is so positive; anything is possible. Its magical.” I would agree.
Mike tells me that he is moving to Iceland on a permanent basis, and that he and Harpa are planning to get married. This is a love story. No wonder Mike can make such joyful, addictive music. I recommend you get your ears around Cheek Mountain Thief. It’s the sound of an Englishman falling in love with a girl and Iceland.
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