Hjaltalín - Here, But Totally Different
Hjaltalín combine pop melodies, male/female vocals and eclectic instrumentation to compelling effect. Their unusually large lineup consists of - apart from the regular guitar, bass & drums - a piano, accordion, bassoon, clarinet, cello and a violin. With seven members, it’s difficult to know whether to call them a small orchestra, a mutated and overgrown rock band or something else entirely.
Their debut album "Sleepdrunk Seasons" was released to great acclaim in Iceland in December 2007 and was produced by Benni Hemm Hemm and Gunni Tynes of múm fame. The album was released in the rest of Europe in late 2008 and early 2009 and received extremely positive reviews across the continent, with media such as The Guardian, Drowned in Sound and Plan B praising the band.
In Iceland Hjaltalín have played with artist such Jens Lekman, Akron/Family, Danielson, Annuals and Bloc Party, and they have also toured outside of Iceland with Cold War Kids and fellow Icelanders múm. In 2009 Hjaltalín have been touring almost constantly and have played festivals such as Latitute, Roskilde, Haldern Pop, Open'er, Truck, Slottsfjell and more.
Besides touring the band has also just finished working on their sophomore album, which involved a full size orchestra being recorded in a warehouse next to Reykjavík harbour. The album is due early next year…
Iceland Music Export (IMX) caught up with Hjaltalín's own Rebekka Bryndís Björnsdóttir.
Your debut album seemed to do really well inside and outside Iceland. What were the highlights for you in terms of feedback, reviews, gigs and all the rest?
It’s always fun to see people sing along with our songs, especially outside of Iceland. And its been really cool to play at big festivals like Open'er, Latitude, Roskilde, Slottsfjell, Provinssirock, Haldern Pop and more. They take really good care of you. But one of the highlights I would have to say is this festival called Verket that we played at in Jotunheimen, Norway - it's up in the mountains and we stayed in a little hut for the whole weekend. We got to do some kayaking and outdoorsy things, but it rained most of the time and it was cold. It was summertime though and we were totally not prepared for the Norwegian mountain weather. So while all the Norwegians were warm and dry in their matching hiking boots and gear we were wet and cold in our shorts and sandals. We had a great concert though on the Saturday night, but we also did this DJ-set on the Friday night which got pretty wild. Everyone topless on stage and banging percussion and dancing. A lot of wild things happened that weekend. It’s legendary within the group now, even though it was just last summer. This is just one of many highlights / good memories. We've also met SO many interesting characters during our travels.
Did you learn any valuable life or music lessons on tour?
Don't play the hat game while drunk. And install a sauna in your apartment.
You have quite an ensemble of instruments, can you tell us exactly what’s in the band at the moment?
The band is: a male singer/guitarist (Högni), bass (Gummi), drums (Axel), keyboard (Hjörtur), female singer (Sigga), bassoon/percussion (Rebekka) and violin/singer/percussion (Viktor). We're very lucky also to have very talented buddies who jump in once in a while for performances, for instance french horn and clarinet. Lately we've performed a couple of times with a whole chamber orchestra, which is awesome.
At least some of you are classically trained. This seems to be a major factor in your musical development or sound since the arrangements can be pretty lush / flamboyant…
I guess so. Högni and Viktor (the ones who write most of the songs) both studied classical music composition, so that has some effect. But we're making pop music. Everyone in the band has different music backgrounds and different music tastes, so everyone is bringing in a little something.
You’ve just finished recording a second album. How was the process compared to the first time?
The first album, "Sleepdrunk Seasons", started out as an EP that just kept on getting bigger and bigger. It was recorded over a long period of time, pretty much the whole year of 2007 with long breaks between recordings, and all over the place. Högni pretty much directed that whole thing along with múm's Gunni Tynes who recorded everything. "Terminal", the new album, was recorded over a more compact period of time, all in Hljóðriti recording studio, plus two days with an orchestra in Vatnagarðar recording studio. There was a lot more group effort from the whole band. A lot of long days and nights - but a lot of fun. Högni and Siggi (Sigurður Guðmundsson from Hjálmar who recorded Terminal) were always at the studio during this time.
Does the new album continue the Hjaltalín ‘sound’? Or did you try for something different?
The Hjaltalín sound is still there, yet it’s totally different. It’s much bigger and we worked with different styles of music.
Was it all recorded in Reykjavík?
Yes, or in Hafnarfjörður and Reykjavík to be more precise.
"Terminal" - where does the title come from?
It’s a nice word. It has different meanings for us and we had a really hard time naming the album. Terminal was chosen because we just had to stop somewhere. It meant the end of working on this project. The other meaning behind it is that the album was formed and discussed mainly on our travels. A lot of sitting around in airports and cars: in terminals, between borders.
Is this second album a bid for an international breakthrough?
We'll see how that goes.
Which Icelandic bands should we look out for in 2010?
There's a lot of good stuff going on here - bands with fresh stuff in 2010 are bands like: Seabear, Útidúr, Pascal Pinon and Nolo.
What touring (or other) plans do you have for next year?
Nothing clear at the moment, except for few shows in Norway in February. But we’re looking forward to summer festivals and making more music.
Hjaltalín @ MySpace