A Conversation with SAMARIS
We usually think of Iceland as a magic place, a mysterious island beyond time and space where Nature still runs its course peacefully. It’s true that music coming from Iceland, from Björk to Sigur Rós, is as breathtaking as the islands’ landscapes, but progress and modernity is something that won’t hesitate to step into this fairytale land. This is one the many things The GROUND found out talking with Jófríður Ákadóttir, the enchanting voice behind Samaris. The trio, including clarinet player Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir and electronic producer Þórður Kári Steinþórsson, is set to release their new album Silkidrangar on May 5th, a piece of work where pagan voices collide with minimal electronic bits, creating an alienated space that feels like the perfect place to reconnect with Nature.
Silkidrangar transcends language and symbolism, casting a spell on the listeners who will discover the authenticity of Samaris’ music and their beloved island. Talking about tradition, modernity and the importance of surrealism, Jófríður welcomes us in the glacial yet romantic world of Samaris.
HOW DID SAMARIS CAME TOGETHER?
Áslaug and I have been friends for a long time, we both attended the same music school and played the clarinet. We were really bored of everyday life so, we started talking about making a band that would do something different. Áslaug knew about Þórður being a producer, they went to the same elementary school, and so we contacted him to explain the idea we had in mind. He was on our same wavelength and this is how we went to the studio in our school. The outcome was this: Samaris. It’s the name of this female character from François Schuiten’s graphic novel called ‘The Walls Of Samaris’
I GUESS THERE MUST BE A GREAT CHEMISTRY AMONG THE THREE OF YOU…
I guess we all have a great chemistry because we are all good friends. I think a lot about the melodies and chords’ structure, basically about the notes and the way they come together. Þórður thinks a lot about the sound and groove we want to give to the music. It is a very interesting process because we get inspirations from very different directions.
ARE THE LYRICS OF YOUR NEW ALBUM STILL BASED ON 19TH CENTURY’S POEMS
Yes, definitely. We kept on using that concept and develop it a little further; it’s very interesting to us because it represents the whole idea of combining everything we love. I love very much folk music and traditional music while Þórður is all about the 90s, house music and electro music. Áslaug brings in the classical elements, from the clarinet and her classical music training, so these combinations become our sound. This is our ground and when we create, we layer on top of it; it’s our inspiration.
WHAT ARE THEY ABOUT?
They all have some sort of mysterious feel to them, and they say a lot about Nature. Most of them are from the Romantic era, when poets were allowed to love Nature and had big feelings towards it; they respected Nature and were even scared of it: this is something we do really appreciate. They’re also about the circles of life and love to a certain extent, there’s some kind of love conflicts in a few songs but always in a mysterious way. It is not a direct language, the poetry covers up the meaning so you have to think about what is happening and what are they trying to tell you.
‘SILKIDRANGAR’, THE TITLE OF YOUR ALBUM, MEANS ‘SILK CLIFF‘. WHAT IMAGE DID YOU WANT TO CONVEY?
We wanted to give a very sort of visual title because when you hear it, or at least when you know the translation, you get an image in your mind. You think of something surreal that doesn’t really exist but at the same time it’s very beautiful and it feels distant. All of these sensations can be captured in one word, ‘Silkidrangar’, and it means a lot to us. It’s not even a real word, it’s a put-together word.
WHAT DOES INSPIRE YOU VISUALLY?
We have been working a lot with faces for our album covers, the previous one had a face of a baby on it and you couldn’t see his eyes; he’s like a crying baby. It was more of a painting with a surreal feel to it. The cover for this one is not a painting but a combination of thoughts that we put together in a way that you don’t really know what it is. Your brain sort of makes a face out of it and it’s very interesting. It is usually about faces, or dogs or a lion! Anything surreal and symbolic that triggers a reaction. You have to use your imagination, at least to some extent, when you listen to us. We sing in Icelandic after all, and you don’t know what’s happening.
HAVE YOU EVER CONSIDERED TO SING IN ENGLISH?
We have definitely considered it, we thought it would be fun but we don’t want to translate the lyrics. We would rather create song in English from scratch, so it would be true to itself. I don’t like it when musician write something in one language and then they just translate it; it looses the original idea, so we’d rather work the other way round.
MANY PEOPLE ARE FASCINATED BY ICELAND’S MUSIC AND LANDSCAPES. WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS SO APPEALING?
It think it is because people don’t know much about Iceland, it’s a sort of isolated place and most of the people haven’t been there so they have a fairytale idea of what is happening there. I think this is why people are fascinated by Iceland and I personally appreciate that they think about its nature because it is something we have to preserve and protect. I wish everyone would do something to support it and that our music could make people think about this in some way, and make them want to try to protest against some injustices happening right now. Big companies, especially from abroad, often come to build huge factories and the Icelandic government is weak sometimes, because it only thinks about the money. They don’t see that building factories, trying to make energy out of the nature, is actually ruining nature itself. They should protect it because there is only one Iceland in the world, this is the only land we have and we must not destroy it to make money out of it. It is a very special place and it has to be like that forever without declining.
WHAT WAS YOUR MAIN FOCUS BEHIND THE ALBUM?
We thought about more details for this album and through the sound we wanted to create an experience the whole from the first song to the last. If you listen to the album you have to think about that, you have to think about its context because nothing has been added by chance. There are also more details in the percussion for example, and we used the clarinet to create sounds-capes rather than melodies.
IS THERE ANYONE WHO INSPIRES YOU VOCALLY?
I was very much inspired by Joni Mitchell when I was a kid. I know we don’t sound the same at all but I was inspired by her songwriting. She’s my favorite singer.
THE VIDEO FOR ‘Góða Tungl‘ IS VERY SYMBOLIC, WHAT WAS THE IDEA BEHIND IT?
The idea behind it is what people do when they can’t sleep. It’s about sleeplessness and the song is like an ode to the moon and how it helps and lends its light to those who are tired and suffering. The video builds around that and what happens in darkness, how the creatures of the darkness go into the light. It almost got a sexual feel to it at the end, it gets a bit provocative and I like that.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO TRAVEL THE WORLD COMING FROM SUCH AN UNSPOILED PLACE?
I love traveling, it is good to go to big cities. Reykjavik is so small and when you go abroad, you get the feeling that you belong to a much bigger crowd. Keeping a balance is not easy, we travel a lot, jumping back and forth; the last few months have been a strange way of living. In the future we won’t come back home often, so we will get more out of each journey and each day. Traveling is a healthy and necessary thing for someone who comes from a small society. It feels good being on the road to promote Something you have been having in the make for so long. It’s like having a baby in your stomach and giving birth to it. I guess it’s the same feeling, though I never had a baby before, so I don’t know!
IS FASHION SOMETHING IMPORTANT FOR SAMARIS?
We just get inspirations from the internet, we pick a few things that we love and put them on right before the show! Sometimes we make things ourselves and we get help from our designers and visual artists friends. It’s very spontaneous, we don’t have one specific theme we work on, it’s always different time to time.
HOW DOES IT FEEL BEING A FEMALE ARTIST IN TODAY’S MUSIC BUSINESS?
I think it’s good to be a woman, it’s getting better and better. We are reaching this point where men and women will be equal; that’s my hope at least. Pop music culture is all about sexuality and if you are a woman, you should be selling your body along with your voice. Our scene is more liberated, we are free to do what we want without playing with our sexualities I am not saying it is a bad thing to do, there are no problems in showing off your body as long as it comes from yourself. It’s wrong when someone is telling you that you can’t make a music video without wearing a bikini.
YOUR FAVORITE LINE FROM THE ALBUM IS…
My favorite song of the album is the first. I really like the feel so the baseline is my favorite line
‘Silkidrangar’ is out May 5th on One Little Indian / Pre-order on iTunes available now
Official Website http://www.samaris.is