Icelandic singer-songwriter Elíza (Geirsdóttir Newman) signed a record deal with record label Effective Music in the UK, as revealed this week. The agreement includes Elíza’s two first solo records.
The first album Empire Fall was released last year and received positive reviews in Britain and elsewhere. The second is scheduled for release next year.
Elíza met with representatives of Effective Music in the You Are in Control conference that was held on behalf of Iceland Music Export (IMX) in Reykjavík in October. Elíza also caught the record label’s attention while performing at the Trúbatrix Festival in Reykjavík last month.
While in London, apart from signing the agreement with Effective Music, Elíza performed an unplugged concert in Electro Acoustic Club, premiering some new songs.
Source: Iceland Review Online
"Island" Live @ Organ venue, May 2008. Video by Magnus Axelsson.
Allan Pedder's Interview in Wears The Trousers
Elíza: “opera really enriched my musical universe”
11. November 2008
Elíza Maria Geirsdóttir Newman is not a name that trips all that smoothly off the tongue so it’s no wonder that, over the last 15 years, little by little its owner has sheared off a word here, a word there, until finally arriving at the ultimate star vehicle with which we get to ‘know’ them on a first-name basis. Not to be confused with Elisa, the Italian popstar who’s still desperately trying to break out of mainland Europe after 10 long years, Ms Newman has actually already tasted the sweetbread of success – a high-profile slot at Reading Festival, a tour with Coldplay, numerous well-received albums. But how, you might ask. With sheer bloody hard work would be one answer, with fated serendipity could be another.
Together with three friends from her hometown of Keflavik in Iceland, Newman formed her first band at the age of 16. An all-girl punk-rock outfit (though they picked up a male guitarist along the way), they quickly tore up the local music scene with an attitude to match their chosen moniker Kolrassa Krókrídandi (which translates to the nasty Blackassed Motherfuckers) and signed a deal with near-iconic national label Smekkleysa / Bad Taste. But it wasn’t until the band decided to overhaul their sound with a brattier, poppier flavour, started singing in English and changed their name to Bellatrix that the rest of the world began to pay attention. Sounding familiar now? Back in 1999 when Bellatrix signed to the also rather legendary Fierce Panda label, Elíza’s face was rarely out of the indie music rags for a year or so as the band were busy plugging such luminous indie-pop creations as ‘Girl With The Sparkling Eyes’, ‘Sweet Surrender’ and ‘Jediwannabe’ with Newman’s playful vocals at the fore.
But by 2001 it had all fizzled out and Bellatrix disbanded, leaving Newman free to do something completely different – study opera in London. “I love opera; it’s so dramatic, big and bold, and singing it is such a buzz,” she enthuses to Wears The Trousers over email. “It was really good to do something completely different after Bellatrix, something that focused my mind and soul. I studied with a few fine people but the best teacher by far was Sirry Ella Vaughan. She is brilliant and helped me in so many ways, both with the opera and with techniques that work in all singing. Maybe I’ll do an opera album next, you never know. It really enriched my musical universe.”
Quite how much soon became evident when Elíza unleashed a brand new band, Skandinavia, in 2004. Backed by a British trio, Newman melded her opera training with a return to her earlier musical roots to create a powerful orchestral rock sound that gave her room to flex her muscles as a classically trained violinist. Their earliest incarnation included The Darkness’s Dan Hawkins on guitar and comparisons were made to Led Zeppelin and to PJ Harvey but commercial success proved elusive and the band dissolved in 2005. “I was tired of living in London and wanted a change,” Elíza explains. “You know, no mountains and sea makes you very lost after 5 years. I always seem to get very lost abroad and disorientated because in Iceland I’m used to having the horizon, mountains and the ocean as a compass to tell me where I am. So I went to Cornwall to chill out and then back to Iceland and that’s when this album started to form.”
Elíza is referring to her debut solo album Empire Fall, released last October on Lavaland Records. Recorded in two of Iceland’s oldest studios – Geimsteinn in Keflavik and Hjóðriti studio in Reykjavík – with producer Guðmundur Kristinn, the album started life as an all-acoustic record but soon turned on its head and became a much grander affair. “The funny thing is, we recorded the album backwards, so to speak. We started with the piano and vocal and then guitar and bass, and ended up recording the drums last, much to the drummer’s amusement. Even though it was a strange way to do things and a first for all taking part, it really worked. Guðmundur even said he’d like to try this method with other artists so I guess I have somehow started a new trend!
“I really wanted to create an atmosphere and vibe, and that’s why I chose to work in these old studios because they have loads of soul and feeling in the air. This album was very much about letting go of perfectionism and letting things be spontaneous and born there and then. The vocals are really toned down, which was hard for me as I am very trained and like to show off. I play with my lower range more, and the whole notion of less is more. I got the guitarist Gummi P, who is a legendary guitarist in Iceland, to come in and do his thing and then things really started flying. We decided to keep everything very simple and organic. We wanted the song writing to lead the way and not overload the songs. The underlying theme was to find the core of the song and keep it simple and true, let the songs do the work.”
Inspired (like countless of others before her) by The Velvet Underground, The Beatles, Rick Rubin and more, all but one of the songs was written especially for the album whilst Elíza lived in Cornwall and then back in Iceland (the exception being ’Queen Of Solitude’, which has undergone a remarkable transformation from its incarnation as a heavy rock staple of the Skandinavia live set). As is almost de rigeur for an Icelandic export, there’s a strong sense of the elements about Empire Fall, for example in ‘Stone Heart’ and in the title track. “I think it’s hard not to be influenced somehow by the forces of nature if you grow up around them, but I’m not sure it’s a conscious thing. I don’t set out to write about elves or glaciers. Having said that, I am a big fan of old Icelandic folklore and ghost stories and they are very connected to nature and the forces that lurk under the surface.”
Indeed, what lies beneath is a major theme for the album as various songs touch on the emotions of loss, on feminine strength and independence. These motifs are best expressed on the album’s pivotal song, the exquisite ballad ‘Hjartagull’. Written in memory of her mother who passed away in 2006, the sense of personal integrity that Newman lends the song, which she sings both in Icelandic and in English, is palpable and touching. “The sound of this album is simple and graceful, and maybe a bit more grown up than my previous adventures,” she writes. “And I wanted the artwork to reflect that. The look is very ’60s inspired; Nico and Julie Christie were some of the inspirations for that, as well as Marianne Faithfull and Jane Birkin. Basically, I tried to draw inspiration from strong, beautiful and talented women and hoped that some of their glory would rub off on me!”
Empire Fall was warmly received in Iceland upon its release there last summer, and Elíza is clearly enjoying her newfound freedom and freedom of expression. “There was no big master plan to go solo,” she insists. “I very much consider myself as a band person, but when I started writing and recording new material I knew something special was happening and the songs kept coming. “It’s exciting to be able to try out all your mad ideas and test your own limits. But I do miss having people to bounce ideas off. Sometimes it can be a bit lonely sitting in a room on your own arguing with yourself!”
She’s still good friends with her bandmates from Bellatrix, however, two of whom turned up to her album launch show in Iceland (”I made them cry when I played the slow tunes, so I guess that’s a good sign”), and two of whom live in Copenhagen doing “various things: music, babies, that kind of stuff.
“We started so young in Bellatrix and achieved so many things. It’s amazing to me still that a 16-year old shy girl from Keflavik could go on and do all those cool things. Hopefully there are more adventures like that to come, but I think probably the highlight of my career so far is now…that I released my first solo album and that I’m still writing and performing music that I like. That’s a real highlight, or is that called a miracle?”
More about Elíza @ www.myspace.com/elizanewman