Iceland’s New Siren: ÍRiS

On the Reykjanes peninsula, a man lies on the bare rock. His face is pressed against his rifle, one eye closed as he concentrates. A lit cigarette balances on his lips. He takes aim. Below, the cold sea is churning over and over, as a female on the beach falls to her knees. Blood spatters from her head on the rock beneath her. She puts a hand up to her face, which is streaked with both blood and tears. Meanwhile, a flame-haired siren is walking on the same beach, secretly calling each party into action.

This isn’t one of Iceland’s infrequent murders about to take place, this is the latest music video from ÍRiS. Directed by Peter Szewczyk—best known for music videos from the UK’s Maccabees and Skunk Anansie—it’s a stunning introduction to the world and music of ÍRiS, a breathtaking songstress from Reykjavík. On the eve of releasing her debut album, ÍRiS produces sultry, elegant music with a sharp edge. She is the siren.

I’ve listened to your material. How would you describe your music?

It’s a bit of a blend really, but if I put it into words I think alternative pop music would be a way to describe it.

You have a classical background combined with performing as a jazz singer. How does that fit with your current style of music?

Everything has its part in my musical development.Classical music taught me important rules of music, but jazz taught me how to break those rules, experiment and find my own sound. And from this background I found that it’s ok to be different, not to be categorized in any way. And so I created what felt I had in me and tried to be honest about it.


Where have you been until now?

Here and there, Sweden, France and Iceland mostly. I have been wanting to head out again for some time now, but Iceland always seems to have some reason to hold on to me. I guess I feel very connected to this place. But my mind definitely wanders abroad.

Your new album is called Penumbra, what does that mean? It doesn’t sound like an Icelandic word.

The name is far from being Icelandic, true. But since all but one song on the album are in English, I felt that an English title would be fitting. The meaning of the name comes from the concept behind the album. Whilst recording Penumbra I explored various musical contrasts by mixing together traditional instruments such as cello and piano with more contemporary electronic sounds as well as experimenting the full range of sounds available from both instruments and items found in everyday life. From this process the title of the album was born, Penumbra, which stands for the region where complete shadow and illumination meet,  where musical contrasts connect.

How was it recording at the legendary Sundlaugin studio?

It was unreal. Mainly because I was realizing my dream project but it was definitely a dream location as well. Great surrounding, it being close to nature, and filled with all kinds of unique instruments that I would put on my wish list any day. Being able to benefit from that, I could create the sound that I wanted, and that is why I chose to record a big part of the album there.

Where in Iceland are you from?

I hail from Reykjavik… simply… although my family tree can also be traced elsewhere. 

The idea of ‘celebrity’ seems not to exist in Iceland. Everyone seems to be on an equal footing, and yet creativity is celebrated. Why do you think this is?

Well, for the celebrity part I can’t answer. But for the creativity, I have my theory. In my opinion, there is a very do it yourself kind of atmosphere here in Iceland. Most artists are independent, and new acts can in most cases find a venue. I have never felt limitations or barriers as an independent artist. It’s hard work but if you want to, there is no one stopping you. It’s a small community, so putting your work out there seem like an approachable idea. Although that same factor could also set you up for critique, since everybody knows everybody. But that’s a risk worth taking, in my opinion.

What’s next for you?

First and foremost to release Penumbra in June, but shortly after that I will certainly be looking for some interesting venues in Iceland and abroad.

Back in the video, ÍRiS walks along the sea shore, placing footsteps in the wet, black sand. Sirens don’t exist, of course. It’s not possible to lure sailors to their deaths by enchanting songs. If it was, ÍRiS would have blood on her hands.


More information:

Original article on Iceland Review online.

ÍRiS will play an exclusive acoustic set at the launch of Iceland, Defrosted on 20th June in London.

Photographs ©NannaDís