Formed early in 2001, Leaves began when Arnar Guðjónsson and Hallur Már Hallsson rented a house in downtown Reykjavík. They were joined by old friends Arnar Ólafsson (guitar, vocals), Andri Ásgrímsson (keys) and Bjarni Grímsson (drums) and settled on Leaves as a band name - a reference to Five Leaves Left, the first album of English folk legend Nick Drake. Leaves played their first gig at the Iceland Airwaves festival in October 2001. A recording contract soon followed with London-based B-Unique records and then Dreamworks. The band played all over the UK with bands such as Doves, The Coral, Electric Soft Parade and Athlete and supported pop giants Duran Duran in Reykjavík. Despite some changes in personnel, the band is now 8 years old, an age few bands reach in Iceland, and has developed consistently. Their new album "We Are Shadows" is due out next month, and is already being toted as the band's best to date. It’s been a long time since the world heard from Leaves.
What have y’all been doing?
We’ve been enjoying life, making babies and writing music.
Can you maybe remind the new Leaves fans how you were formed?
It started in 2001 with me (Arnar) and Hallur renting a “red” house in downtown Reykjavík where we started recording some songs that I had written. Soon more friends joined the group and Leaves was formed.
You hit some pretty major highs early on, right? High profile tours, major label signings…
Yes, things happened really fast. We had a record deal before we even played our first gig. We were on the road before some of the boys even knew how to play their instruments properly and we got the opportunity to support some of our favoured bands such as Supergrass and Doves.
You’ve decided to go the independent route since departing from Island, is that right?
Well, the plan was just to finish the album on our own and then take it from there. Were or are you at all tempted to punt the album around the majors again?I think it’s necessary to find good people to work with but I’m not sure if a major label is the right place for us now. We want to do things a bit different this time and be more in control.
When did work begin in earnest on WAS?
We’ve been writing and recording music since we released "The Angela Test" in 2005 but I would say WAS started taking shape in late 2008. We tried a lot of different things the years before. I think at some point we sounded like a Krautrock band with a lot of delays on the guitars and string synths. Well, you can still hear some of that on the album. But in 2008 we had found the sound we were looking for and the album came together.
How did you set about recording it – is there a change in personnel from the previous album, and perhaps also a change in the song writing / recording process?
We have our own studio in Reykjavik where we recorded the whole album. We also recorded “The Angela Test” there. This time we didn’t have a sound engineer with us so I did most of the engineering myself. Being unsigned and having our own studio gave us all the time in the world to experiment and try different things, this of course meant the recording process would be longer than usual but we learned a lot doing it this way.
Have you missed all the touring these last few years? Has that had an affect on your sound?
Yes, touring is great especially when you are with good friends but it also helps the band to develop. After playing 10 gigs in 10 to 12 days new things start to happen, you start gaining confidence to go to the next level in your performance. This of course does not happen when you play 1 or 2 gigs in a month here in Iceland for the same crowd.
Some of the songs seem to stretch back to 2005. That’s a long time. Have there been long breaks in the writing process, or was it all just a very slow burn?
Some of the songs are even older than that. We did a version of "Aeronaut" in 2003 for the US release of "Breathe", we thought the song was good but our arrangement wasn’t quite working at the time. 5 years later we tried it again and “boom” it fit perfectly to what we were doing. There have not been long breaks in the songwriting process, we are always working on something but we also tried a lot of different arrangements for each song and sometimes we decided to try out some older songs like Aeronaut.
What did you want these songs to represent, to be about?
Good Icelandic music.
How do you think it stands up to previous work?
I’m very proud of these three albums but they are like three different worlds to me. It’s impossible to tell if one is better then the other. We are shadows is the newest so it’s still fresh and you tend to like your stuff better.
You were always most compared to shoegaze/dreampop acts like Doves. Do you still think such comparisons hold water?
I don´t know… I guess that’s better than being compared to The Spin Doctors. Doves have produced some great music in the past and they were one of the bands that we were listening to when we started.Which scenes or bands have been “closest” to you over the last year or two?There are so many good bands. Fleet Foxes, The Arcade Fire, Midlake, Sigur Rós, The Flaming Lips and many more and then the old classics like The Kinks and Rolling Stones.
What are your plans now the album is out? Is there going to be an international release? Tour?
Hopefully some touring…well, we’ll just have to wait and see. Leaves will be playing at the Ja Ja Ja Night in London on 21. January 2010.
"Dragonflies" Live @ NASA, R'vik
Leaves @ MySpace