Airwaves 13: Ólafur Arnalds

I can’t be at Airwaves this year (long story, will be back in 2014), so I thought I’d post a few interviews with artists performing at Airwaves that have previously been featured on the blog. This interview was with Ólafur at last years festival.

Ólafur Arnalds is younger than me. And so much more talented; it makes me sick. Ólafur produces a strain of music that is unique and original. It mixes neo-classicism with electronica and ambient. It’s unique and intriguing.

At only 25 years of age, Ólafur has released numerous albums, including Found Songs and Living Room Songs, which were released track by track over his own social media. He has toured with Sigur Rós, worked with Amiina, Johan Johansson and even dance evil- genius Aphex Twin.

Ólafur played an extraordinary set at Kex Hostel at Iceland Airwaves; the audience listened to
Ólafur work his magic in hushed awe.

We sat on the floor like school children as Ólafur, accompanied by violin and cello, crafts beautiful classical compositions against gentle electronic beats, whilst the sun shines on a snowy Esja across the bay. It was achingly beautiful.

I start my interview, accompanied by groans from Ólafur with the usual question; Iceland and your music, is there an connection there?

My usual answer? It’s important where you come from, because that makes you who you are, but I don’t I don’t think it has any more effect than living anywhere else, it just has a different, unique effect, because this is a unique place. It’s very important, but I don’t like to overplay it.

Do you use being from Iceland to your advantage sometimes?

Ólafur laughs. I would love to say no, but maybe a little bit, in a marketing sense. I know that it works. It doesn’t play a big part in my concerts.

Do you enjoy playing in Iceland?

Yes, but I don’t do a lot of it though. I get very nervous here, because I can feel my friends judging me. Outside of Iceland I don’t really know the people. If my mum is watching, it can be a problem.

Tell me about (the actress) Emma Watson, and how you met her?

She is nice. It came about when her assistant was looking for a place for her to record some music. She wanted to use some of her off days from filming to do some music. I was contacted. She already knew my music and was like “yeah, let’s do that.” We did some music with her and her friend. She was mostly just singing.

Is she any good?

She is not bad. It was fun, really informal and she was a bit nervous, which was nice—not like a major superstar or anything, just like hanging out with friends and making music.

What’s next for you?

I just finished a new album which will come out in February (For Now I Am Winter), a movie soundtrack and a soundtrack for a U.K. TV series.

Any plans for projects such as Living Room Songs? It was the highlight of my day to go home and see which song you had uploaded.

Definitely be more of those, I love doing those. I’ll continue that series. Found Songs, Living Room Songs and then Something Songs. I have some ideas. I would really love to travel around Iceland for a week, recording a song in each town, using local musicians. So maybe in Akureyri we could use the Northern Symphony, and then in wherever Mugison is from, get him to play.

I hurriedly make an offer to carry his bags, to which, again, he just laughs.

Later on, after this interview, Ólafur despite being softly spoken, and clearly a gentleman at heart, wastes no time in accusing me of being a spy; reading quotes of his in Icelandic newspapers before twisting them and releasing them to the English speaking media. I protest, on the basis that I can scarcely read Icelandic, but he has me in his sights. He reckons that it was me that broke the news about him and Emma Watson. It a good job I enjoy his music so much, and his company for that matter, so I agree to buy him a coffee and we forget it. I need to stay on his good side if I want to carry his bags on a tour of Iceland.