Published in Iceland Review 45.01, the spring 2007 issue.
Musicians in Reykjavík’s Great Flood of sound tend to come and go with the tides – or perhaps the sun – but one 24 year old’s humble addition to the city’s burgeoning indie-blues scene is here to stay. In October 2006, Lay Low released her debut solo album Please Don’t Hate Me. By the time IR's Nanna Árnadóttir sat down with her in January over coffee and a kleina, she’d already been nominated for Female Singer of the Year and Performer of the Year in Iceland, both of which she later won. Now she’s about to head out on tour to pick her guitar and wow audiences around Europe and the States. And after that? Well, as it turns out, there’s some possible nudity involved.
Nanna Árnadóttir: Bono’s birth name is Paul David Hewson. Pop singer Pink was born Alecia Beth Moore. You were born Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardóttir. So why Lay Low?
Lay Low: I think my friend came up with it, I'm not sure. But it sounded okay to my ears and same with its meaning because then I was just on my own with the guitar... laying low. Things have changed, but still I'm Lay Low.
NÁ: The title of your album is Please Don’t Hate Me. Why?
LL: The title came from a song on the album and the lyrics came from the way I was feeling when I wrote the song. I’ve often been asked what I think about when I write but I don’t really know myself. I’m not thinking of a specific person or experience, it’s a mixture of a lot of things.
NA:Why release your first solo album in English? Was it to reach a wider audience?
LL: It’s basically because I’m not good at writing Icelandic lyrics. It’s also easier for me to sing in English. I’ve tried writing in Icelandic and I will be trying more in the future, but when I started writing for this album, it just came easier to me.
NA: When I listened to your album, the song “Wonderplace” really stuck. You seemed to make morbidity sound beautiful. Where did that come from?
LL: That song is about when I was sick not so long ago. I was diagnosed with brain cancer and because of it there were these nerves that gave me massive headaches like every ten minutes. I couldn’t even shower on my own. They didn’t realize it was a tumor until a year after I’d gotten sick and didn’t know if they would ever be able to cure it. They spent a year giving me medication to see if it would go away but it didn’t. It was a really hard time but the worst was not knowing if they would be able to fix it. So that song was about how I felt when I couldn’t do anything. I had to quit my job and school. My friend's mom, a nurse, was basically just taking care of me. Then I went into surgery and they were able to take it away and even with the risks they were able to remove it without any damage so I don’t have to take any medicine now. I’m really lucky.
NA: Lucky, and a success to boot. How is fame treating you?
LL: It’s funny because Iceland is so small sometimes. When I walk down the street people go “Hey! You’re Lay Low!” and since I currently work in Skífan, a CD shop, sometimes I’m signing my album as I’m selling it.
NA: Do you think the Icelandic music scene is moving in a positive direction?
LL: I like the way things are going. The Icelandic scene is divided into the really hard rock, indie and electronica. Some of it’s manufactured, but not that much. Icelandic stuff is really original. At Airwaves, I didn’t get to see as much as I wanted but I thought that the Icelandic bands were excellent, if not better than the foreign ones.
NA: What was it like becoming a solo artist? You’re used to playing as a member of a group, right?
LL: Yeah, at first it was really, really frightening because I’ve been a session player all my life and as a player in a band I was never nervous before a gig. But the first time I had to play on my own I was so scared. Especially with my singing, I was kind of pushed into performing on stage by myself. Now that I’ve been playing more and more solo it’s been getting easier, but still it’s hard, especially in between songs. I’ve never really been good at talking to the audience and explaining the lyrics. With each gig, though, it gets easier, and I think it’s good to be little nervous because it means you put in that little extra effort.
NA: Does your guitar have a name?
LL: My guitar’s name is Martin, but that isn’t the name I gave it, just the brand. Some people name their instruments but I’ve never named one other than by its label. My guitar has been with me since I started the Lay Low thing, so it’s special.
NA: What’s your favorite place in Reykjavík?
LL: I always like going to Kolaportið (Reykjavík’s flea market) with friends and especially foreigners to eat some shark and dried fish. It’s nice because it’s on the weekends, it’s always the same and you’re bound to run into some people you know.
NA: You were discovered on MySpace and on your blog you wrote that for inspiration you needed to go run through a cotton field naked. Have you ever done that?
LL: (giggles) No. I forgot about that. I haven’t. I’m actually quite timid so if I’d done it, it would’ve been a really big deal for me.
NA: Any plans to do so in the future?
LL:Maybe for the next album.
Source of the drawning: www.krotborg.blogspot.com
More Lay Low ? Go to: www.myspace.com/baralovisa