October 1, 2009
Ólafur Arnalds Interview
Icelandic neo-classical composer Ólafur Arnalds produces melodies that dance between haunting and energizing, beautiful and saddening, but which are always captivating. In our interview below, we chat with the mesmerizing talent about the social media-induced ‘Found Songs‘ album, the moment he knew he was on the “right” path, and how growing up in Iceland affected the way he approaches his music.
Check it out and then give him a listen. You won’t be left untouched.
You just released the limited edition Found Songs CD. For those who don’t know, each of the seven songs were recorded and released for free on the internet within a twenty-four hour period. How did this project come about?
The idea kind of developed from me trying to find an interesting way to release all compositions that were different from what I like to have on my albums. I write quite a lot of romantic piano music in the style of Chopin or Schumann and wanted to get some of that out there. I also just realized that there would be a longer wait for my next full length album (which I had already written at the time) and I thought this would be a nice way to remind people about me. Most of the songs are based on some older sketches I never had a chance or even a reason to turn into full songs. Sketches I had even forgotten about and found again during this week. Hence the title “Found Songs”.
In addition to your use of the internet for Found Songs, you have a very active Twitter account. How has your use of the internet and technology influenced your relationship with your fan base?
I think there are not many things more important than having a good relationship with your fans. All these social networking sites have only made that easier for me and more effective. Found Songs is also a bit of an experiment as I released the songs through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook and got my followers on these sites to interact with me through their own art.
Because you compose and perform neoclassical instrumental music, do you think it has been easier for you to cross linguistic barriers and find wider acceptance across Europe?
Hmm, I don’t think so really. I think English has become such an accepted form of lyrics in music that it doesn’t make much difference with countries that speak other languages. Maybe it being instrumental helps a little bit though, I don’t know. However, I think this type of music makes it easier for me to cross all kinds of other barriers, genres and such.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
Shostakovich, Arvo Part, Schubert, and Bach, of course, as he pretty much invented the harmony behind everything I do.
Was there a particular moment when you knew that your future would involve composing and classical music?
Not a particular moment that I can remember, but I remember realizing that I was on to something. It was my first-ever tour with this music and it was the first show of the tour. Actually, I think it was probably my first show ever with this project. It was in Germany and we had just flown in on the same day and our flight was late so we only arrived to the venue (a huge, beautiful church) like just before doors. There was a long line down the road of like 100-200 people who were waiting for the show to start… I was like “wow, are they all here to see me?!” After the show the audience wouldn’t stop applauding, we did encores until we didn’t know any more songs. I was very surprised and, in fact, every show of the tour went like that… and actually pretty much every show we’ve played since. Stuff like that makes you realize you are on the right path in life.
Did growing up in Iceland influence your musical tastes and path?
I think no matter where you live, your home is always going to influence you – more than that actually; it controls it. Your taste is made by the people you meet, the concerts you go to, etc… No more in Iceland than anywhere else.
What would you like to accomplish with you music? Any goal you are striving for?
Well there is no certain goal because what would I do after I reach that? But I strive to be better every day and make my music reach more and more people through all kinds of different mediums. I guess that’s the point of all this, to let my music be heard, to inspire someone.
Would you ever consider writing and performing vocals for any of your songs?
Yes I have, I have even tried it out in some of the new songs. Some of it sounds great but in the whole context of like the new album it doesn’t really work, so I’m not using any of them. But we never know, maybe it makes more sense on the album I do after that!
Is there any vocalist you would like to write for or collaborate with?
Yes, I would love to work with Anthony Hegarthy or Emiliana Torrini, for example.
You have been touring Europe and selling out venues, what has been the highpoint for you thus far?
Well some of these shows have been absolutely amazing. Some highpoints would include my last show in a church in Poland, Barbican Hall in London, supporting Sigur Rós on a few shows in Germany and Poland… The absolute high-points for me are when I can clearly see my career moving forward, like when I got offered to score my first major film or first interest from a big record label – things that you just know are going to change your future.
Where should people look for info about where to see you live?
It’s best to just go to www.olafurarnalds.com – it only links to my Myspace page now, but I still keep that updated with all tour dates
Thanks, Oli! Be sure to check out Oli’s Web site and find him on Twitter, MySpace, YouTube and Facebook.
Posted by A. Sogal at 6:59 am