An in-depth look at one this year's most special Icelandic records.
Words by K-Man (@kmanriffs):
It is beyond doubt that Icelandic Post-Metal/Rock outfit SÓLSTAFIR are different. Since their inception some 25 years ago (yes, that long!), they have forged their own identity. With a steadfast refusal to play by any sort of conventional heavy music rule book, they continue to astound all with their ability to not only capture a certain emotional intensity in their work, but also their willingness to explore new territory. In a scene that is saturated with predictable name-your-genre output, SÓLSTAFIR remain as a truly unique outlier among the throng. Their M.O is deep. The more you listen, the more layers you discover. The Post-Rock/Metal tag hardly scratches the surface, really.
To help you understand just a little more about what make this band tick, we have been lucky enough to grab some time with drummer Hallgrímur Jón Hallgrímsson – “Grimsi” to talk about their upcoming seventh album Endless Twilight of Codependent Love, released on Season of Mist, November 6th. So without further adieu…Ding….Ding!
Welcome to Heaviest of Art, Grimsi, it is great to have you answer some questions for us today!
Grimsi: It is my pleasure, K!
Of course, the main reason we have you here, is to chat about the forthcoming album ‘Endless Twilight of Codependent Love’ – you and the band must be keen to see it released come November 6th?
Grimsi: Honestly, we can´t wait! You know how things are now in the world - we would like something good happening…right?
You are correct there, no question. It has been a shocking year! Grimsi, this is full length album No.7 in the band’s discography. 18 years since the debut. 25 years since the band’s first demo. I know you have only been involved for the past few years, but does the band ever look back and think how the hell did this happen? Has the ride been smooth? Has there been moments where it all looked to hard?
Grimsi: Like you said, I have only been with the guys almost 6 of the 25 years, but I have been friends with Addi (Tryggvason, guitars/vocals) for 13 years. I got to know Sæþór (Sæþórsson, guitar) and Svavar (Austmann, bass) on the first rehearsal in I think April or May of 2015 and we have been good friend since. Me and Addi used to live in Glasgow when we were in school, so I knew the story of the band and like in all rock n´roll stories, it had had some ups and some downs. All I know is for me, this has been a joyride so far.
Great to hear that! I thought it would be the case, man. Now, I want to dive into the new album soon, but I thought we might get there via ‘Berdreyminn', your previous album from 2017. Was the band pleased with the response to it and what it represented for you at the time? A pointless exercise I know, but if you were to put on your critical hat, would you have done anything differently?
Grimsi: We were pleased with the album, yes, but it’s always really easy to say afterwards, “ahhh, we could have done it better!” Albums are bit like our babies; the more we spend time with it, the better it gets, but if you spend too much time with it, you will fuck it up! We wrote 'Berdreyminn' in 3 months. It was quite fast, but at the time we were just at that tempo, you know… It wasn´t about trying to finish it up; the ideas were coming in and we work every day from morning ´till afternoon and sometimes much later. That was just the pace we were on then, but with this new album, we wrote it differently and worked differently and then you get another outcome. That’s what I love about my job - you got a different year, different idea!
Great. The process seems to be very organic! So, you spent the best part of 2018/19 touring the hell out of ‘Berdreyminn’ (and we’ll chat about the live situation later) – when did the band decide it was time to put ideas together for this new album? Did it come together quickly, slowly, compared to your previous work?
Grimsi: While we were touring, we had some ideas. We are always getting ideas either together or individually. Sometimes we are at the rehearsal space and start jamming stuff and it becomes a song or a part of song, sometimes we send audio files with a whole rough demo of a song that the band will later finalize, or sometimes it’s just a vocal line from a telephone recording that we produce a song around. I would say that we wrote this new album in maybe 10-12 months.
Ok, so a lengthier process this time around compared to 'Berdreyminn'. So, moving forward to the new one…Now, I’ve listened to “Endless Twilight...” several times, and once again, you have be able to offer up something that is quintessentially Sólstafir in sound, but also something that has you exploring and progressing your style even further than before. We are at the point now where no “one” track can be offered up as typically Sólstafir in style – that’s maddening to new listeners as they tend to look for pigeonholes. But once again, you’ve cooked up some more new magic here - How does the band keep getting away with it?
Grimsi: The rules are basically that there are no rules. I mean, we play music that we like and man, we like all kind of music. I think we like the challenge to put a lot of different things into a pot and mix it together and the main thing is it has to be tasty and fun to play. We try things out and if any of us are not into it, we take it off the table and try it with another dish maybe later.
Yep! A smorgasbord of ideas. Of course, for long-time fans (I’m one, by the way) the eclectic, varied nature of ‘Endless Twilight’ is pretty much the expectation. You’d be surprised if long-time fans didn’t embrace what has been captured here, yeah? Or does the band make a point of never taking that for granted?
Grimsi: No, but of course, we always hope that our listeners like what we are doing and we don´t like repeating ourselves. If I want the new Iron Maiden song to sound like the 1980 era of Maiden like 'Killers', I´d rather just listen to 'Killers' then. But then again, it’s always some sound and mood you have to keep to be loyal to your fans. That’s just my opinion.
I totally understand that, Grimsi. Who wants the same thing over and over? So, when writing for ‘Endless Twilight’, did the band use any of your past efforts as points of reference? For example, do I hear some harsh ‘Köld’ (2009) influences on tracks such as 'Dionysus' and 'Ulfur'? What did you do differently on this album that you’ve never tried before?
Grimsi: Blues in 12/8 signature blended with heavy rock in 4/4 signature, for example. It sounds as weird as it is, but it works!
I can’t disagree. But having said that, ‘Endless…’ also presents the very gentle, softer, introspective side of Sólstafir. There are a ton of mood driven moments laced with Addi’s impassioned, emotional lyric/vocal delivery. Would you agree that this might be some of his, let’s say, heart-felt/vulnerable work yet?
Grimsi: Of course, Addi has sung with his softer voice in older songs like 'Kukl' from 'Svartir Sandar' (2011) and 'Miðaftan' from 'Ótta' (2014). Sólstafir has a singer that can ride with the band through different styles of music and that is part of the magic.
Let’s take a look at one of those tracks where Addi is vocally, probably at his most vulnerable – 'Her Fall from Grace'. It is the lone track on the album that is sung in English. Can you tell me what that track means to the band and why the English lyrics were chosen as the delivery mode?
Grimsi: That was Addi’s idea from the beginning. It was always supposed to have English lyrics and we liked the idea. It’s a really sad, mellow, but powerful song that tells a story.
Furthermore, I’ve always loved the way your band locks into the long, sprawling, epic instrumental jams and there’s no shortage of that here, but could I put it to you that ‘Endless..’ is actually a more vocally-centric album than your last couple?
Grimsi: Yes, that is true. The vocals are more in the first plays on this album, though of course, you have the instrumental parts as well.
Couple of other tracks to talk about. Track 8 'Or' – the opening piano salvo that drops into a languid lounge room jazzy/swing feel made me smile. Is this just you guys refusing to play by any sort of rules, again?
Grimsi: No, this one came by on its own and tapped us on the back when we were mixing the album; we just fell for it. It’s funny because I think we recorded it in one take because we weren´t sure if it would be on the album. I remember when I did the drum track, I thought I was just jamming. I had no backing track, I just had to hum it, so I was playing on my own which is not very typical. Afterwards, the rest of the guys did some guitars and bass just to finish it off and then we threw in some vocals and got a friend of ours to do some kind of lounge piano. When we listened through this track couple of times, we all decided that 'Ör' would be on the album.
Amazing how the unplanned moments come through like that! Now, another example of your “damn the rule book” attitude is opening up the new album with a 10 minute plus giant in 'Akerri'. It’s not exactly a new move from you, but it still takes some balls to ask the listener to saddle up. Care to comment on that?
Grimsi: (laughs) And I wanted to have 'Dionysus' as the first song, which is a kind of black metal-ish tune! We just wanted this album to start with a bang - no serious build up in the start - just a small intro and then start the song hard enough so you get right into the album. You can chill later on.
Yes, plenty of opportunity provided on that front! Oh, and by the way I totally love the breakdown at the 6 and 1/2 minute mark which kicks back with some brilliantly conceived cowbell. I noticed this! 'More Cowbell' is totally appreciated, man! Is that your work, Grimsi?
Grimsi: I have always been a fan of the cowbell – 'Can I Play with Madness' by Iron Maiden, 'Night Train' by GNR, 'Honky Tonk Woman' by the Rolling Stones, and the glam stuff as well! I said to the guys that I wanted cowbell on this album and tried putting it some songs and they really didn´t like it until this breakdown. I remember Addi said, “Hey man, how about your cowbell there?” and of course I said, “hell yeah!”
Such a brilliantly inspired move! And track 7 – one of my favorite moments – 'Alda Syndanna'. THAT riff; the throbbing bass line. You have to be super pleased with how that rolls?
Grimsi: Yes, we are indeed!
Ok, being an art focused website, it would be remiss if we didn’t chat about the Johann Baptist Zwecker’s 1864 piece 'Lady of the Mountain' that adorns your album cover. What was the inspiration? I believe it’s very entrenched in Icelandic mythology? Does it tie in with the musical feel/lyrical theme of the album?
Grimsi: I don´t know where Addi found this painting, but I’m glad he did! He just presented it to the rest of us and we were blown away. The inspiration, I don´t know, its bit Mellon Collie-ish (Smashing Pumpkins), but we just figured that out afterwards. But we didn´t have any special theme for the album; however, most of the songs are about women so maybe the Lady of the Mountain fits well.
Yes, I’d heard about the Smashing Pumpkins similarity being proposed. All cool. I’d like to suggest that you must be keen to give this album its due in the live setting, but hell, 2019’s been such a clusterfuck of a year, who knows when that will happen? Every band on the planet is frustrated with the inability to get back to what they do best. How have you coped personally and what are the plans IF we get through this mess?
Grimsi: We were one of the “lucky” ones since we had other jobs beside touring, so we were able to survive, but man how I miss touring! It’s hard to say. I just hope we will be back on the road next summer and will be able to do a proper tour in Autumn ’21.
Speaking of live gigs, how about we reminisce about past gigs for a bit – as an Aussie, I was thrilled to have been there and witnessed you for the first time when you toured with Enslaved in late 2018. I know Addi had visited some ten years ago, but I believe it was the first for the band? What do you recall of that time?
Grimsi: This was a long travel from home and not much of sleep, so my recollection is bit hazy, but I remember well that every gig night was good with a great audience. What I remember the most is how friendly you are over there. I cracked a drumhead one night, so the day after I had to find music store. The guy who drove me to the music store gave me a good insight into the Australian history and I wished that I had recorded it because what he was saying was really interesting!
And doing it with Enslaved! You must have jumped at the offer to tag along for the tour dates?
Grimsi: Oh yes! ☺
And although, I didn’t see you in headlining status with a two-hour show, I felt like I was seeing two headliners that night. A small, intimate, but very knowledgeable crowd lapped it up, Grimsi. You seemed to play like you were in front of 10,000 people? The energy was palatable.
Grimsi: We try to deliver at every gig, doesn´t matter if it would be 100 people or 10,000 people. And if the energy in the crowd is like it was at those gigs, it gives us this extra power that makes you want to put even more into it.
And what of your contribution to the new album, Grimsi. I believe there was some lyrical work involved? How have you settled in to the band?
Grimsi: Yes, I would say so. We have solid chemistry and are good brothers.
Ok, final question – It’s clearly never been an issue for you, but when I tell others who have only come to Sólstafir in recent times, that your lyrics are delivered in your Icelandic dialect, they are a little unsure what to make of it. It’s always been the unique link in the chain for me, but do you have people suggest it should be otherwise? I’m interested in what you think of that?
Grimsi: If you don´t understand the lyrics, the vocals become an instrument that people like. Most of the time, we release the lyrics so you can Google translate the hell out of it! No, I totally understand that you would like to able to understand a meaning of a song you like for sure and yes, people have asked about it.
But in my opinion, I really like to stick with Icelandic, but that doesn´t mean we won´t release more English written songs in the future. I just think our language fits well with the music and we are so lucky to have Addi as a singer for the band. He has so much of a feel of the song that it comes through in any language.
Right on, Grimsi. Thank you so much for your time. We at Heaviest of Art are truly stoked to feature you and your band on the page and we wish you every success moving forward with ‘Endless Twilight..” On a purely selfish note, please don’t wait another 10 years to come to Australia. Any final comments to wrap it up?
Grimsi: Thank you for the interview kind sir, and thanks to all of our supporters down under, we hope and pray we can visit your great country again in the future.
Endless Twilight of Codependent Love arrives on November 6th via Season of Mist. Be sure to order your copy of the record HERE.