After being entranced by her equally talented cousin Ólafur, we caught up with Icelandic songstress Ólöf Arnalds. After wowing crowds across her motherland and more recently the US, her debut album 'Við og Við' is now set for a UK release on November 16th through One Little Indian. Originally released in Iceland back in 2007, the album won several plaudits and has slowly built a bourgeoning following - including another certain Icelandic female singer songwriter. While Björk's glowing appraisals certainly haven't hindered Ólöf's increase in popularity stateside, to put that as it's the sole reason for it would be far from the truth. On first listen, the first thing that grabs you, is a voice with incredible range and the capacity to both haunt and enthrall. With subtle folk melodies - produced by Sigur Rós member Kjartan Sveinsson - Ólöf' crafts enchanting songs that easily transcend the barriers of language. Luckily for us, Ólöf was happy to chat in English.
What inspired you to leave your previous band Múm and release music as a solo artist?
Well I haven't really left Múm, although I haven't been active for a while, who knows what the future might hold? Regarding my own music, I just reached a point where I had to start playing less of other peoples music and start creating my own stuff, to express what I needed to say.
Did performing in other bands previously give you the confidence to play solo?
Of course all good collaborative experiences are very empowering. I would say that my work with the Icelandic musician and composer, Skúli Sverrisson, was very good for my confidence because he had me start writing lyrics to his songs and those were the first lyrics I wrote. He also gave me a lot of trust and freedom to explore what I could personally contribute to his music.
What other artists have inspired your work? Or would you say experiences in your life have inspired you more than other artists?
I experience others people music mostly through learning to play new songs. It's very important for keeping the mind active and open to different possibilities and ways of playing music. When it comes to writing my own stuff it comes from a different place, an abstract one, a non thinking one. If other songs influence me it happens in a very indirect way. For example, a certain movement within a song can trigger a memory or a feeling and then that impression generates a completely different tune coming from me. Then again I always fall in love with one very specific moment within a song and sometimes, without noticing it, in my mind I have made new chord progression to a fragment of a melody I know and then a new melody on top of the new chord progression. Sometimes I can trace influences from other songs through a few cycles of this. But it's more of a subconscious thing.
How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard your work?
It depends on many things - the person I'm talking to, the atmosphere, the mood I'm in...but I let other people do the classification.
How does it feel to be held in such high regard by someone like Björk, who is so renowned by so many people?
Feels good. I'm very honored.
'Við og Við' was produced by Kjartan Sveinsson from Sigur Rós, do you guys have plans to work together again?
Well Kjartan has now recorded a whole new studio album with me, that´s coming out early next year. We´ll see what happens after that.
I know you’ve been well received in America. Are you planning to come to the UK for some shows?
Absolutely, as soon as possible.
Being a young mother, how has having a child affected you as an artist?
Well I´m not sure if having a baby at 28 would be considered young, but being a mother has changed me a lot. It´s sharpened my will and forced me to use my time well.
What albums are you currently enjoying?
American folk songs for children sung by Pete Seeger, Rubinstein/Chopin 8 Polonaises, 4 Impromtus, John Prine - In Spite of ourselves, Nina Simone - Too be free (compilation).
If you could collaborate with one artist, alive or dead, who would it be?