by Stína Satanía
I’m always amazed by the ease with which Icelandic musicians can deliver their creativity by several channels at the same time. Often those channels are not even genre-related. When I first met Ragnar Ólafsson during his tour with Árstíðir in 2012 I asked how he managed to find time to work on three different bands simultaneously. He replied humbly: I just don’t watch TV. Five years later, Ragnar is taking his first steps into a solo career and is working on another three albums and a movie soundtrack.
Although his adventure in Iceland started in the metal scene, his most famous project so far is an indie-folk band, Árstíðir. They are currently recording their 4th album and have already performed in over 30 countries, conquered the hearts of the Russian audience and supported Pain Of Salvation on their European tour in 2013. Moreover, Árstíðir is the first Icelandic band in history to headline their first ever tour of North America. At that point, they even beat Of Monsters And Men and Ásgeir.
When your master calls you
Árstíðir has recently been working on two albums at the same time. The gang threw itself into a collaboration with Magnus Þór Sigmundsson, a legend of the Icelandic music scene, better known as half of the duo Magnús og Jóhann and as a member of Change. The entire nation has sung lyrics written by Magnús for popular songs even without realizing who wrote them.
He called Daníel one day and said: hello, my name is Magnús and I have this one song I want to play with you – reveals Ragnar. He invited us to his house in Hveragerði where he lives with cats and dogs everywhere and also chickens in a very beautiful garden. We sat in his living room and he showed us more songs. Then came the idea to make a whole album with only his songs but arranged and played with us.
Magnús Þór is a hero for the band and has always been a guiding light for them, even before their official beginnings under the name Árstíðir. When we met Gunnar, and before Árstíðir was formed, we were sitting at Daníel’s place in a dorm, listening to Magnús og Jóhann on vinyl and marveling at the voices – Ragnar smiles to the memory. What sort of brought me and Danni together in 2005-2007 was our love for vocal harmonies and stuff like Magnús og Jóhann on one hand and Neil Young, Crosby, Still & Nash, Simon & Garfunkel on the other. And now we´re making an album with him!
Last February, Magnús and the band locked themselves for two days in Sigur Rós’ famous recording studio – Sundlaugin. Working with Magnús is a new experience for Árstíðir. They gave up on perfection and put simplicity and emotions first.
Magnús has this rule to record all the songs in one take. You are not allowed to rehearse the song too much. Otherwise you kill the flow – explains Ragnar. What happens has to be happening in the room, not be planned too much, not be too conscious. It has to flow…