Another concert abroad, another interview with a big name like Sólstafir’s frontman Aðalbjörn Tryggvason with his hypnotic beard. The schedule was a bit tight because of logistic reasons, but the singer was kind and warm, in opposition to the cold lands where he comes from. Enjoy!
Hi Aðalbjörn, we’re Giuseppe and Margot from Italian webzine MetalPit, thank you for having us! You were in Italy a couple days ago for two dates. How did you like the experience in our country? Any thoughts about it?
It was truly great! In full honesty, the first time we came to Italy, it was not good. It was a long time ago, certainly interesting, and then we didn’t go to Italy for a few years because, you know, the people who booked our shows said ‘It’s not worth it, it’s far, you’re not pulling any people’… but then, two years ago, we came back after two years of not coming to Italy, with Mono and The Ocean. Something had changed: I was truly grateful, we did two gigs, so it changed our whole perspective. Now we’ve been there for two gigs again and it was amazing, so much love, great crowd, freezing cold but the people have made it warm. We truly felt blessed, it was beyond our wildest hopes.
That’s great to hear! So, you’re in the middle of the tour and I’ve seen your reactions on social media as well as the fans’, with a few sold out shows. What are your thoughts so far? Is it going well?
It’s going really well. You know, of course you change: ten years ago we were doing smaller clubs. When you book tours like this, and thankfully we’re not booking them ourselves, are you gonna aim for like six to nine hundred or three to five hundred people clubs? Of course you can book 300 people clubs and say they’re all sold out! Or you can book 1500 people clubs and they would always be half empty. We’ve been lucky, the clubs are the perfect size. Our first gig was over 700 people on a Monday, in Helsinki, which has been one of our favourite places. Our second gig outside of Iceland was in Helsinki, twelve years ago, so it has been one of our favourite places to visit. There’s also two countries we never visited before: Croatia and Serbia. Those two countries were specifically requested because we want to reach new places. It’s been going really well, I mean, London was great and the venue was packed, Paris was awesome… so it’s nice to see, after playing small clubs year after year after year, that it’s still growing. It really gives you a lot of strength, it’s rewarding, people are really into this… still!
Your last album, “Berdreyminn”, steered in some way into a softer and mellower kind of sound…
Oh really? Okay.
Well, I absolutely appreciated it, it wasn’t a negative remark.
Oh no, I’m kidding.
Haha, okay! Nonetheless, it remains a perfectly recognizable Sólstafir album. Can you tell us about the genesis of the album, the themes and the influences?
Well, I think it’s always been like this. Our first full-length album was recorded in 1999, came out three years later, but… the album after that was completely different. A little bit cleaner vocals on it. The next album, “Köld”, more clean vocals, softer and more open, wider. Then we did “Svartir Sandar”, it had “Fjara” on it: a very soft song. People were like ‘What the fuck is this crap? I thought you were a black metal band!’ And we were ‘Well, this is what we like! We do what we like.’ Then we did “Ótta” and there was a lot of clean stuff with violins and shit. People were ‘Aaah, what is this crap? You stopped being heavy!’, ‘Well, this is what we like!’ Then we do “Berdreyminn”, there’s still a lot of heavy stuff in it, still a lot of violins and soft vocals and people are like ‘This time you steered away from black metal.’ Well, not really, you know! It’s been like seventeen years since we released an album you could say it was black metal. I like experimenting, by singing better, putting more effort into the vocals, writing better lyrics… you just wanna progress, writing different kind of songs. The influences are basically the same. I mean, I still like the same artists: a lot of pop artists, a lot of black metal artists, songwriters, some country stuff, a lot of shoegaze bands… and then it’s life in general. If I would take a trip with my girlfriend for four days in the wilderness, that’s gonna affect me. That’s gonna affect the way I think of certain things, it’s something spiritual. If I meditate for a week, or whatever, it’s gonna affect the way I look at things. If I read five different books about spiritualism, it’s gonna affect me. If my parents would die… so many things can affect you.
What is your way of working when you settle down to write new material?
Pick up an instrument, and it will come out of it.
Okay, so is there a main songwriter in the band or something like that?
Not really. Some songs are my ideas, other songs are Gringo’s or Svavar’s ideas… we sort of write them together. It’s not like a Lennon-McCartney deal. It’s a band, everybody has a say about it. You know, I know who wrote every part: out of all our songs, I can tell you who wrote which riff, which lyrics, which drum beat. I can, but it doesn’t really matter since we’re a band.
Talking about songwriting, a couple years ago you separated from your original drummer. Did that change anything in your writing process? Did he have a particular role in that?
No, not really. We have only written one album without him… same method, you know. We’d meet up, the four of us, and wrote the songs. He was a very important member, with a lot of ideas and stuff, but it’s still the same: we meet up and write the songs. Nothing’s really changed, but he wrote half the lyrics with me, that changed. Now I have to do it myself.
The new album sounds strong in general, as I said we have appreciated it a lot. Which new song are you enjoying the most playing live, in this tour?
It’s eight songs on the album, we’ve been playing four and the other ones have never been played since the studio. First, we did “Silfur-Refur”, then “Ísafold”. Right now, I’m enjoying the most playing “Bláfjall”: there are church organs in the song, some sort of rock’n’roll/church vibe, if you like. So yeah, I’d say “Bláfjall”.
In the past, for a couple albums, you had English lyrics and then you switched back to Icelandic. Was that like an experiment you weren’t satisfied with or anything?
Not really… we used Icelandic on our demo and on our first album, and on the first EP “Black Death”. We had an English guest singer for the song “Bitch In Black” and I don’t know, we just progressed into having English lyrics. Then, you know, changing back to Icelandic was when I started singing more clean vocals, it felt more comfortable to sing from the heart, with your own expression, in the language you think and you write in. If I’m gonna express myself in English literature I would have to be really, really fucking good in English, which I’m not, to write really personal English lyrics without making a fool out of myself. Then again, we look at vocals more like an instrument.
In your opinion, which aspect of Iceland shaped your music the most?
I don’t know. I think other musicians from there probably shaped us the most. The whole nature thing is something… that’s always been there. It’s very natural for me to drive for ten minutes into the middle of nowhere: when you’re a kid, you think that everybody has this sort of wilderness in the backyard, which is in the back of your head most of the times. I appreciate it more the older I get. I don’t have to go to Australia, America, I just like to be at home. It’s more comfortable, I think it makes us who we are. But again, I think it’s mostly all the music.
Okay, I think we’re out of time now. So, thank you again for your time, see you on stage!