Words by Wim Van Hooste
Photograph by Ómar Sverrisson
He is a 42-year-old, 189-cm-tall man with dark hair that is naturally starting to turn grey. He lives in Reykjavík with his partner and their four kids. He works as a web designer in the travel industry, and has done so since moving back to Iceland from Denmark in 2010. This person is Ólafur Josephsson, who is the man behind Stafrænn Hákon, which started as a solo project and has since evolved into a full live band. Although he is not a formally educated musician, he makes music whenever he has some spare time, because he really enjoys it. He says it keeps him sane.
Stafrænn Hákon has collaborated with a broad range of artists and musicians, and was aired on the late John Peel’s radio sessions, among others. This musical material has been released on the U.S based indie label Secret Eye, Resonant Records, Awkward Silence, Chat Blanc, the Japanese Nature Bliss & Happy Prince and Darla Records.
Hello, Ólafur Josephsson! Your ambient rock band, Stafrænn Hákon, released the album Hausi in September 2017. This is your tenth album in a long history of material that you began releasing in 1999, and it is my favourite Icelandic album of the last year. So, it’s about time to put Stafrænn Hákon in the picture.How would you describe the latest album?
Hausi is an instrumental album, rich in instrumentation and loaded with nice, tickling melodies and riffs. The album was built around little harp loops that our guitarist, Lárus, composed, and we structured the songs around them with each member contributing their vision of the song. I would say the album is a mix of the so-called ‘post-rock’ genre, but it has some other elements to it, so it’s hard to pinpoint what genre it falls under. We usually just call our music ‘power ambient’, as an inside joke in the band. We like that description; it’s a bit cheesy and has an 80s vibe to it. I love 80s music!
The current line-up consists of guitarists Ólafur Josephsson and Lárus Siguðsson, bass guitarist Árni Þór Árnason, drummer Róbert Már Runólfsson and singer Magnús Freyr Gíslason. Tell us how this became a group project instead of a one-man adventure.
In the beginning, it was just me firing away some ideas. I am not so good a musician that I could pull that off all by myself, so collaboration seemed like quite a good idea. There were never any plans for how this thing would turn out: a one-man band or a ten-piece band?! It sort of developed, and I sort of collaborated with whomever I was close to. My good friend Samuel White has been on most of the records from the start and contributed stuff, but not on Hausi. I was living in Denmark from 2002 to 2010, and I never managed to turn it into a band. I think I wanted it to kind of stay just in my hands at that time. I didn’t really put any effort into making it into a band. When I moved back to Iceland, it was easier to invite some guys, whom I already knew, to play with me. And I remember, I really just wanted to be in a proper band at that time, so it kind of just happened. Árni and Lárus had already played with me before, so they sort of became members automatically. Samuel, however, wanted to focus on his career and didn’t feel like playing anymore, so he dropped out. Róbert, our current drummer, came to a rehearsal and was very up for joining, so that was nice. Eventually, in 2012, after a few different line-ups, we had a core that we could build on. This core has stayed relatively the same since 2012, when Róbert joined the band.
The project has sort of taken different shapes throughout the years, with me being the founder, and therefore the only member [who has been in the band] from the beginning. I started the project in 1999, when my fellow members of a band called Sullaveiki Bandormurinn stopped showing up for rehearsals. I happened to keep bringing my newly acquired 4-track tape recorder to the practice space and started doing some stuff on it which eventually led to piled up tapes with material that became the first Stafrænn Hákon record.
On Hausi we were a four-piece without Magnús Freyr, our singer and occasional guitarist, who moved to Sauðárkrókur, in the North of Iceland. He chose to focus on his career as a designer. However, two of our good friends and occasional live members, Þröstur Sigurðsson and Þórður Hermannsson, played large roles on the new record with their instruments, cello and trombone.
Unfortunately, Árni and Róbert have moved to Sweden, so the band’s status is kind of ‘in the air’ at the moment. We rarely play these days, so I guess we will just continue making more music together when we have the time. In fact, we already have loads of material to work on and spice up a bit for a few more records.
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